Stephen–Justice and prophecy

Things have not changed much from the days of the Prophets, Jesus, and now Stephen, the first martyr. The people have “covered up their hearts and ears.” They do not want to hear the voice of the prophet proclaiming the “truth which shall rise up from the earth while justice looks down from heaven” (Psalm 85).
I recently read an editorial that bemoaned the Vatican’s attempt to name sin anew by focusing on social sin. The author’s point was quite simple—the churches with the strictest rules have the most members. Allegedly that is why Benedict XVI is slowly but surely taking us back to the good ole days that never were and never will be. But church is not about membership. It is about listening to God. Often churches which emphasize fundamentals require strict ascetical practices, not that there is anything wrong with asceticism. However, Jesus and the prophets before him remind us again and again that it is not about sacrifice. It is about justice. The entire Bible is about justice.
Biblically, justice is not what we mean by justice in the distributive sense. Justice is about right order, right relationships. We can perform all the ascetical practices known to people and still not be in right relationship with God and our fellow human beings.
Look at the pre-Vatican church. We did not eat meat on Friday and knew that we would go to hell if we did. While we were not eating meat our government in our name was conquering countries and overthrowing governments as in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and so on. We would like to think it was about democracy but it was not. It was about domination and oppression often for natural resources or some other strategic advantage. My Irish forbears were being exploited in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and elsewhere. African Americans were freed from the bondage of slavery but were being treated as if they had not been liberated. I remember the “Whites Only” water fountains and bathrooms when I was growing up in the South.
Look at the church today. Social sin? What is that all about? I saw a bumper sticker the other day, “In the end, the one with the most toys wins.” It is about stuff. It is about possessions. It is about winning—domination. Often, our toys come with an invisible price tag—sweatshops and the exploitation of resources and people. Sweatshops, military conquest and domination, economic servitude, all of these destroy right order and right relationships.
When I speak of peace and justice work, I hope I am doing so at the prophetic urging of Jesus, our nonviolent Brother. Be that as it may, people wonder and give strange looks. Recently, while I was soaking my senior aches and pains in a bourgeoisie hot tub, one person said, “I don’t go abroad anymore. It’s too dangerous.” I said, “We just went to Israel and Palestine and had no problems.” He said, “Yeah, I heard you talk about it at the men’s breakfast, and, with all due respect, you are nuts!” This man is a faithful Christian churchgoer who sees no urgency for us to be in solidarity with the oppressed and their oppressors. Life is about toys, safety and my comfort. We have to been with the oppressed if we are to alleviate their suffering. We cannot just throw a few bucks at a charitable cause. As seniors, we have the wisdom, knowledge, and experience to teach about God’s justice, to be in solidarity with the oppressed and to relieve human misery. We cannot abdicate our duties because we have done our part.
I have had other seniors tell me, “I have done my turn. Now I am going to sit back and enjoy life.” Do we have the option as Christian to sit back and enjoy our toys and lives while there is murderous violence in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Rwanda, Tibet and on and on? Do we have the right to sit back and relax while our government pursues insane policies of violent oppression for resources and strategic control (e. g. oil and water in Iraq)?
Like Stephen, we are called to speak God’s word even when people cover up their hearts and ears. Like Stephen, we are to cause justice to roll down like a mighty river. We are Easter people, Resurrection people. We live in hope that justice will look down from heaven while truth rises up from God’s earth. We are to proclaim that truth from the rooftops and mountains. I can still hear Martin Luther King saying, “Let justice roll down like a mighty river.”

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