We all know the dangers of a “gospel” that is reduced to Social Justice, but is there a danger that conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, might react too much in the opposite direction, by an eschatologising rejection of the vocation to act for justice in our present world? What is the authentic relationship between the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Love which he embodied and which is proclaimed and enacted in his name, and the goal of justice for all human beings?
I ask these questions in relation to my comments on Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message for 2010, and in light of Past Elder’s attacks on the place of justice in the Christian mission that followed it.
The beginning of Lent follows, in the Roman Lectionary for Year C, two significant passages in the Gospel of Luke in which Jesus announces his Messianic ministry:
1) the sermon in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:14-21):
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.
2) and the Beatitudes (Lk 6:20-26)
“Blessed are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now: you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now. Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry. Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep. Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’
These texts are not simply about charity toward neighbours. They are explicitly about the action of divine justice in the world. They are eschatological promises attached to the coming Kingdom of God, but the fact of Jesus’ incarntion and ministry in the world of historical time make them also present realities.
Pope Benedict repeated his message at the Angelus on Sunday. Pope Benedict said:
The beatitudes are based on the existence of a divine justice which raises up those who have been wrongly humiliated and casts down those who have been exalted…
This justice and this beatitude are realized in the “Kingdom of Heaven,” or the “Kingdom of God,” which will be fulfilled at the end of time but is already present in history. Where the poor are consoled and admitted to the banquet of life, there God’s justice is manifested. This is the task that the Lord’s disciples are called to undertake even now in the present society…
The Gospel of Christ responds positively to the thirst for justice in man, but in an unexpected and surprising way. Jesus does not propose a revolution of a social or political type, but one of love, which he has already realized with his cross and his resurrection. On these are founded the beatitudes, which propose a new horizon of justice, initiated by Easter, by which we can become just and build a better world.
I guess the contentious proposition (at least in Past Elder’s eyes and in the eyes of a number of Lutherans I know who emphasise the division between “the kingdom on the left” and “the kingdom on the right”) is whether divine justice is simply something we have to wait for from God, or whether indeed it is “the task that the Lord’s disciples are called to undertake even now in the present society.” Note too that the Holy Father is not proposing “a revolution of a social or political type, but one of love”.
Anyway. For your comment.