Monday, July 4, 2016

The real difficulty in doing justice and mercy God’s style

One of the hard things about living lives that are touched by justice and mercy is that it always asks that something in us dies first.  Our humanity has an in-built resistance towards death at any level, primarily death at a physical level.  All of us have a desire to want to continue in a state of existence, and for many of us, we know that it just isnt enough to simply exist.  There is a further call and a pull towards existing with a purpose, living for a cause and pursuing an objective.  The Christian life is no different.  To St Irenaeus, one of the founding fathers of the Church who lived in the second century, is attributed a pithy statement that sums up just how different the Christian life is when it is contrasted against the worldly definitions of life.  He is known to have said that the glory of God is man fully alive. 

The Christian definition of what a person fully aliveis cannot be made more paradoxical than to see it in terms of the Cross.  One would logically think that what makes a person fully aliveis polar opposite to anything that speaks of the Cross, suffering, afflictions or even death.  Yet, St Paul seemed to be so clear that his life had a meaning and a purpose only because it was lived in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Undeniably, he was speaking both mystically and theologically, but it doesnt mean that he was being neither facetious nor sardonic about life.  Not the least bit pathologically suicidal, Paul had a deep sense that his life was really not about him, not his happiness, and not his definition of success in any earthly way.  When Paul wrote that he bore on his body the marks of our Lord Jesus Christ in his letter to the Galatians, he most likely meant that in living out our discipleship with a keen sense of our baptismal calling, all of us are similarly called to bear those same marks. 

In both Isaiah and Ezekiel, God was very insistent that there is a pressing need for his people to act with justice and mercy if they are to live out their relationship with him.  And throughout both the Old and New testaments, it is clear that our lives are about living in relationship with him.  It is only when we are in full connection with God that we truly live, and by proper extension, then what St Irenaeus said begins to take form and is given a practical way, we become fully alive.  When we live out justice and mercy in an active and mindful way, we also become fully alive.  As Scripture teaches us, the best examples of this are when we care for the needy, when we look out for the weakest and when we have the backs of the marginalized and the poor. 

Many teachings in the Book of Proverbs tell of how when we do those rather challenging things in our lives, we actually do them to God himself.  God readily identifies himself with the anawim, a Hebrew term for the poor who depend on the Lord for their deliverance. 

There have been much discussion, debate and justification lately about countries having much trouble with refugees coming into their borders.  Much of their resistance of this influx is given a very sound economic and social rationale.  Their own job security is threatened, there are resources that are thinned out because of a larger population requiring more from what is limited, and social problems become rife whenever groups within extant established citizenry exhibit any form of resistance towards an integration from non-indigenous people.

While all this makes good sense even if just on an economic level, a protectionist mentality mitigates against the gospel values that define the kingdom that Jesus came to establish.  If one is clear in ones understanding of the true good news (which is what gospelreally is), it is a call to radically live in a world where there is equality at the deepest level, and where goods and resources are shared with the poor.  Understandably, it is a no-brainer that if this is done, we are going to constantly be challenged to put ourselves, our needs and our security in second, third or fourth place, but never in first.  Whether on the level of self, family, social circles or nation, the teaching of the gospel is a call to show justice and mercy to the afflicted. 

But this isn't just applicable, true and valid on the large and global scale that.  It applies just as acutely on the scale as tiny and seemingly insignificant as the neighbourhood playground, a place where swings, slides and sand boxes exist.  We teach our children to accept differences among them and would like them to share the swing, the jungle-gym and the sand boxes with those who are not like them, those who are different and those who are of a different colour and creed, don't we?  And why?  Because it makes them think less of themselves and we have a sense deep inside of ourselves that knows that we need to include others who are not ourkind.  It makes us bigger people.  I believe that on our best days that we do this.  And when we do this, we become godly.

Yet, if we extrapolate this to the larger, global scale, we seem to be teaching them the direct opposite - do not share resources, close up our borders, set up trade embargoes to protect our economy, put ourselves and our needs always at number one and build walls to keep out foreigners.  Show them that they are a danger to us.

If we live in a self-protecting and selfish way, there is something that is disturbingly out-of-sync with what we believe is deeply true in ourselves.  Which one of us doesnt feel our hearts beat with admiration when we see acts of selfless generosity, where there is altruism practiced for the good and benefit of the lesser privileged and marginalized?  Only those who have numbed their hearts and souls from their connection with their fellow man will become indifferent to the sufferings of another human being.

I can sense the reactions going on in those reading today's disturbing reflection, thinking that I am advocating living in some sort of an abandonment of their families' needs, neglecting national security or to deny the self at all levels, even to the detriment of one's very life.  That would be irresponsible.  But we need to be mindful that we do live with this tension, and balance out in a healthy way these two seemingly polar opposites.  And when we are disturbed at our core, that we call to mind how St Paul was able to be so passionate about the Cross, and what being fully alive means.

In truth, these are only seeming opposites because if we truly love ourselves, we will also truly love the marginalized, living out the call of justice and mercy, God's style.

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