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Justice marks the very nature of God

Director’s Reflection

Dear Companions on the Journey,

So it’s Advent – those four weeks preceding Christmas when we listen to the Jewish prophets speak of a future time when our God will save us. We Christians, believe that that promise was fulfilled in Jesus, but still with final and ultimate fulfillment in our common future with the Jewish people.  So this occurs to me…

An image of a rural, fall day with a hunting dog and its master out looking for duck.  The hunting dog is alert, its ears perked, ready to discern a certain sound. The hunting dog, perhaps a beagle, is able to hear certain telltale sounds against the background of other forest noise.  

During this Advent season, the Christian is very much like the hunting dog.  Against the backdrop of the season – incessant Muzak from retail loudspeakers; professional begging bells; come-ons and put-offs; and the clinking of too many cocktail ices – the Christian discerns through those other sounds to hear the telltale notes of the pre-Christmas, Advent season.  And that note, that faint sound, is the Biblical call to justice.

Advent’s Sunday readings – particularly those from the Hebrew Scriptures – are filled with justice language.  The Church, through the readings, beckons us to be alert to the language, just as the hunting dog is alert to the special sounds in the field.  The Church asks us to hear those words, those callings in a new and profound way, so that our yearning for a society marked by justice might be as deeply felt as the Jewish community’s before the time of Jesus (and indeed by both Jewish and Christian Communities since).

The Jewish people yearned as much for Messianic times as they yearned for a Messiah. They knew to the depth of their hearts that their God was faithful to them…but they were also aware that their response needed to reflect more fully those same qualities. 

Probably the fundamental foundation for an understanding of Biblical justice is that it is not the opposite of mercy, but rather justice is mercy’s other name – or, as Cornel West put it, “justice is what love looks like in public.”  Describing the messianic times Isaiah speaks about the throne that is marked 

by steadfast love, faithfulness, and the seeking of justice (Is 16:5). Speaking of how madly and passionately in love with Israel Yahweh is, Hosea blurts out:  “I will betroth you to me forever; and I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.” (Hos 2:19f)

In our Western culture, we have often pictured justice as a blindfolded woman who holds a scale in her hand. The weights pull the scale in one direction or the other.  So, easily we may conclude that justice is blind: let the chips fall where they may.

Such an impersonal and “objective” sense of justice was far from the imagination of the Middle Eastern Jew. The good judge in Israel would be one who would have a special bias for three representative groups in society: the widow, the orphan, and the poor.  “Letting the chips fall where they may” with regard to any of those groups (or any group that is less powerful) would strike the just Jew as very unfair. As we see in Psalm 103: “The Lord…works justice for all who are oppressed. The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.”

Justice marks the very nature of God. So for the next two Sundays, listen carefully – with your ears alert as the hunting dog’s – for the justice yearned for by the Jews waiting for Messianic times.  Perhaps in many senses, this may be the Advent of Justice for us…  

What do you think?

And let us pray for/with one another.
The Paulist Center