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Posted by on Jun 30, 2024

Justice is Undying

Justice is Undying

We hear a lot about the notion of justice, especially when someone innocent is hurt or killed. Voices are rightly raised demanding that those who harmed the victim be punished for having done so. In this idea of justice, punishment for the wrong-doing balances out the injury to the victim and the scales are balanced once again. So, in this mode of reasoning, if a person is killed, then the killer should be killed or at the very least imprisoned for life. If other members of the community see the punishment, they will be less likely to commit the same offense.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as all that. Identification of the guilty party is not always simple or accurate. An entire genre of literature, for example, is based on the idea that it’s not easy to identify the culprit when someone in a community turns up dead! If the penalty is death, then innocent people will die when they are falsely accused and convicted. Even life imprisonment for those who are actually innocent is a terrible injustice. And taking away a second life doesn’t bring back the original victim…

What then does it mean when we hear in the Book of Wisdom, “Justice is undying?” Does this mean that God is a judge who is always watching and ready to punish every mistake or smallest failing? That is certainly the image some folks have had of God. But is it really an accurate picture? Who would want a God like that?

When reading scripture, it’s important to remember that the writings were originally composed in a different language, in a far-past era, by members of a different culture than ours. Many of the same issues we face in terms of interpersonal relationships are similar, but many aspects of our lives and our understanding of reality, including cause and effect, are different. Even the meaning of a word as seemingly obvious as justice can be different.

The Book of Wisdom was written in Greek by an anonymous Jewish scholar in Alexandria, Egypt, sometime between 200 BCE and 100 CE. Its purpose was to encourage fellow Jews who were living outside Palestine to be faithful to the Covenant. It is written in verse, following the patterns of Hebrew poetry, and includes references to the Exodus, the wisdom of King Solomon, God’s mercy, and the foolishness of worshipping idols.

In the very first chapter, our narrator calls all to justice because justice is the key to life. Justice is the characteristic of living in right relationship with God. “God did not make death,” our narrator proclaims, “he fashioned all things that they might have being.” It is only through the envy of the deceiver, the devil, that death came into our world. (Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24)

What does it mean to live in right relationship with God? Does it mean to walk around with our hands raised in prayer, looking down on those who don’t share our beliefs exactly? Does it mean hoping to be part of some small “faithful” remnant of God’s chosen ones when the last day of judgement comes? Does it mean hiding away in the mountains or in the desert, so we won’t be tempted by worldly pleasures?

For most of us, these are not ideal options, nor are they the way God wants us to live in justice. We are called to care for each other. To be kind to those who are treated as inferior. To reach out and share what we have with our neighbors. To speak a word of support for those whose rights are being trampled. To welcome those who flee violence in other areas and help them begin a new life in safety in our communities. To help the child who struggles with reading or arithmetic, reassuring them that they are not stupid, just that they learn in different ways. To forgive the person who has hurt us. To ask forgiveness from the person we have hurt. So many, many ways we are called to life in justice, in right relationship with the God who created all of us for imperishable life.

Jesus healed the sick, including when he wasn’t aware that healing was needed. When a woman in a crowd recognized him and touched his cloak as he passed by, she was healed of a condition that had made her an outcast for twelve years. Jesus did not consciously heal her. He noticed her touch in the crowd because he felt the healing power go through himself to her.  But he did not react with anger at being touched by a woman, by someone who was ritually impure, whose very touch defiled him as well. He spoke kindly and reassured her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

At the home of Jairus, he prayed over a twelve-year-old girl who had been ill and just died. Her father had come to Jesus to ask him to visit their home and heal his daughter. Jairus was an official of the local synagogue. Yet he reached out to this traveling preacher and asked for help. Jesus sent all out of the room except for the child’s parents and family. He took her hand and called her back, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” And she got up and walked around. (Mk 5:21-43)

Did Jesus do these kinds of things so people would say good things about him or follow him around praising him? No. He typically told the people he healed not to tell others about it. Did they keep quiet? Some might have, but I think mostly they didn’t. Can you imagine having a great source of suffering healed and it not be noticed by family and friends? Then how could one not tell of the wonder and the healer who had given that great gift?

The Christian community in Jerusalem had many hard years of struggle. They were outcasts in their own city and country because they followed The Way of Jesus. Often members of Christian communities outside of Israel sent gifts of money and supplies to Jerusalem to help the members of that first community. St. Paul urges the community in Corinth to send gifts from their abundance to help supply the needs of those in Jerusalem. He cites the example of Jesus, who became a human in order to share our lives and bring us to the richness of divine life in the Kingdom. He reminds them that God provides for all, as long as we share, just as during the Exodus, manna fell in the wilderness and was enough for all to share. We too share as we walk in justice with our God. (2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15)

As we move through this week, may we be alert to the needs of others and offer a smile, a hand, a word of encouragement, forgiveness, and even a share in the riches we have, however great or small. Together we are on a journey with the Lord, whose justice is undying, a journey of solidarity and right-relationship with each other and our God.

Readings for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B