by Father Mike Stubbs
Pope Francis has created quite a stir in the church.
He has not changed any doctrines nor has he retracted any moral teachings. At the same time, he has criticized some in the church for their obsession with certain moral issues, while ignoring others — in particular, economic justice. In doing so, he seeks to restore to the church’s mission a balance which he believes it has lacked in recent years.
In promoting economic justice, the church goes beyond the popular notion of justice, which focuses upon the narrow demands of the law. It more closely reflects the broader concept of justice found in the Old Testament. The prophets frequently advocated on the part of the poor, who had fewer opportunities to advance themselves and were consequently at the mercy of the rich. God’s justice demanded that they also be given a chance.
The word “justice” often appears in the Old Testament and always has to do with “God’s will.” It is not simply a personal virtue or an abstract idea constructed by a court system. It is the living out of God’s will in our world.
Significantly, the word “justice” occurs three times in Sunday’s first reading,
Is 42: 1-4, 6-7. The passage from Isaiah describes the mission of God’s servant. That mission is all about justice, bringing it to the nations, establishing it on earth, making the victory of justice possible.
We read this passage of Isaiah this Sunday as we reflect upon Jesus’ baptism in order to understand more clearly the mission entrusted to him by God. It is a useful corrective to that understanding.
After all, we often think of Jesus coming to the earth in order to bring us salvation. We talk about Jesus dying on the cross to set us free from sin. But how often do we speak about his establishing justice on earth?
Clearly, one does not rule out the other. In fact, I would argue that they are two sides of the same coin. Bringing justice to the earth also brings us salvation. We cannot have one without the other.
That means that we cannot focus on one so much that we lose sight of the other. It is a matter of balance. It goes along the same lines as what Pope Francis has been saying. We must have a clear vision of Christ’s mission if we are to understand the mission of the church, because our mission reflects his.
We are the body of Christ and continue his work in the world.