Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jesus and Justice

Jesus and Justice

From today’s first lesson and from the first of the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah, we read these words;
“Here is my servant whom I uphold”
“He will bring forth justice upon the earth.”

We are a long way from Justice. Has Jesus failed? Or more to the point, have we failed Jesus? 

Let me begin with this question; where is the justice for our young people? It breaks my heart to see inner city youth live hopeless lives; lives in which crime and drugs take hold, where violence takes too many beautiful, vibrant, youthful lives. Whether in nearby Lawrence or Boston, or where it really gets bad in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit or in the nation’s capital; it is far too common to see our young people live lives diminished by despair. I worked for 11 years in West Virginia and know of so many rural young who are also without jobs, where crime and drugs again get into the driver’s seat and take out too many.

Parenthetically, I might add that in West Virginia today over 300,000 people are without water because of a chemical spill. Just Monday, Governor Tomblin said he is not going to allow the EPA to interfere with the coal or the chemical industry. There was a time when Government existed to protect the public safety. Now too often it joins in on the injustices.

There are too few meaningful jobs for the American people, young and otherwise. Manufacturing jobs that were born in the north, first went south and then went overseas. And with them went decent and livable wages. 

For those of us in more comfortable neighborhoods, we too need to have our wits about us to insure that our vocational job prospects remain bright. Meaningful work is no longer “a gimme”. It takes lots of expensive education, hard work, and resourcefulness to make our way in today’s world.

Where is the justice for our elderly, our children, and for the vast majority of the American people for whom income disparity is increasingly widening?

When I was growing up, admittedly a long time ago, one income typically provided for a family: a roof over our heads, food on the table, a car or two in the garage, health insurance, pension, and a paid vacation. That was all standard fare for the vast majority of the American middle class.

All that has now changed. The American Dream no longer exists for so many of our people and it is becoming more and more difficult to keep a decent standard of living for many of our fellow citizens.

Where is the justice? What too for the rest of the world? The disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” continues to grow and with it the unrest, the development of terrorism, and regional warfare.

It was into this very world that Jesus was born to bring peace on earth and good will to all. At Epiphany those wise enough to recognize who he was brought their gifts to him. They came far from the East and it was thus that God’s Good News would reach to the ends of the earth. 

Today we celebrate his baptism. He was not baptized because he needed to repent but so that he could bring the Good News of the Gospel to all. We are told in today’s Gospel reading that this pleased God. And God asked us to listen to him and go do likewise. 

From the outset he proclaimed a message of Justice. Right there in his home town synagogue, he read from the Prophet Isaiah, the first of the most beautiful and poetic of the Servant Songs; “I have come to bring good news to the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the blind, the lame, the weak to proclaim the year of God’s favor.” (para Luke 4:18)

Jesus developed his Gospel message in the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, the peacemakers, those who thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers as well as those who are persecuted for righteous sake.” (para Matthew 5)

Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus are great days in the church year. The birth of the baby, his manifestation to the outside world and now his baptism; where is all this leading us toward?

Why did Jesus need to be baptized? John the Baptist said; “I need to be Baptized by you and do you come to me?” As usual Jesus likes to turn things upside down. When he came up out of the water we’re told that the heavens opened and the Spirit of God descended upon them.

Jesus was born and baptized for a reason. And you and I were born for a reason; to bring Good News to the poor and so on. In my younger days, I took a bus load of young people to the Holy Land on two separate occasions. I’ve taken young people to the National Cathedral in Washington DC or to St John The Divine in NYC. Just last summer I took a bunch of kids to France for a Pilgrimage. I was baptized for a purpose, and so were we all. We’re here to bring Good News to the poor, the young, the elderly and to all who are vulnerable in the machinations of a difficult and challenging world.

We have been Baptized to open wide our hearts to those growing up in an uncertain world. Jesus himself said it of his baptism, I have come to bring you life in all of its abundance. (John 10:10).

The church has been there for many poor and vulnerable with her soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, recovery groups, pre schools and so on.  But the church must not make peace with oppression of any sort.

In our baptismal covenant we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. We are therefore called to look out for and speak up about those in need among our young, our elderly, and all those who are vulnerable in the social order.

Where then is the justice? It is in our hands becoming the hands of Jesus. 
As Theresa of Avila, the 16th Century mystic, reformer, and Carmelite nun put it; 

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
~Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
           Born in Spain, Teresa entered a Carmelite convent when she was eighteen, and later earned a reputation as a mystic, reformer, and writer who experienced divine visions. She founded a convent, and wrote the book The Way of Perfection for her nuns. Other important books by her include her Autobiography and The Interior Castle.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Fr Paul

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