The Servant Song from Isaiah (42:1-7) describes the messiah as one who would bring justice to the nations.
A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
What is it that we do not get about this passage from Isaiah? Justice is the key biblical value. It denotes right order. The messiah will restore right order-the right order that was lost in the Garden. The last part of the song was on the scroll Jesus read in the synagogue. It was the core of his inaugural address. Jesus clearly identified, not with a kingly, military Davidic messiah, but rather with a Servant messiah-a messiah who would suffer, who would overcome sin and death through the cross.
Daniel Maguire reminds us that tsedaqah (“justice”) means that the “very life of God is beating in our hearts.” The very life of God = justice.
It is Holy Week. This is the week when we are reminded what happened when Gospel values collided head on with the values of Empire. Jesus was not overcome by Empire. He overcame Empire. In the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus, we are called to work for justice, to restore right order.
How can we fail to grasp that Jesus entry into Jerusalem and his action ion the Temple were political acts which would lead to his execution as a common criminal on the Roman capital cross? Jesus did not die as a substitute for our sins. He died because he challenged empire. While Pilate was triumphantly entering Jerusalem through another gate with his legions in order to be in Jerusalem to control the Passover crowds, Jesus, in mimicking street theater was riding down the Mount of Olives on a donkey—in your face to imperial domination and violence. Because the Temple was no longer a sanctuary for justice making but rather a refuge for robbers and outlaws—a place where sacrifice was more important than justice—Jesus temporarily shut it down. Symbolic actions and prophetic words challenging the oppression and violence of empire.
We do not go to church to get our sacrificial fix for the week. We go to church to learn how to imitate Jesus the justice seeker.
Finding ways to eliminate nuclear weapons is one step toward restoring right order in a world gone mad. Until we do that, how will we have credibility with the little guys in the world who want to have what we have-nuclear weapons? What is the empire intent on doing? Building new facilities at Los Alamos and Oakridge to build bigger and better nuclear weapons while we are cutting service to the vulnerable among us. Time has come to apply Gospel values and to agree with the increasing number of theologians who believe that having nuclear weapons and using them as a deterrent is immoral. It is time for America to embrace Gospel values and to become, once again, a light for the world-a light of peace, justice, and hope. Yesterday, an unknown woman poured expensive oil over the head of Jesus to anoint him for his death and burial. Jesus was dining at the house of another social outcast-a leper.
Today’s reading from John (12:1-111) has Jesus eating with Lazarus, Martha and Mary. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead and people are coming to believe in him. Coupled with the symbolic action and words in the Temple, the raising of Lazarus sealed Jesus’ fate. The priestly rulers could not tolerate such “misguided” values. If he kept on, he could bring down the Empire and priestly estate. Horrors!
The focus today is on the anointing of Jesus’ feet by Mary. Again, the greed crowd represented by Judas swings into action. Why waste this? It could have been sold. We could have given the money to the poor.
Right! Unfortunately, a misinterpretation of Jesus’ response has been used throughout the centuries as an excuse for not doing anything to alleviate poverty. That is the wrong interpretation. Jesus is simply saying, “Let her prepare me for my death and burial. You will have plenty of other opportunities to care for the poor.”
We need to eliminate the injustice of poverty. God wants every person to have what he or she needs to live a decent life in relationship to God. This is not socialism. It is Gospel values lived out in our social and political lives. Everything is gift. The resources of creation are for the benefit of all. Injustice comes when people hoard resources in silos while others languish in hunger and poverty.
Jim Wallis and pothers Christians continue their fast in protest of debt reform on the backs of the vulnerable among us. WWJD has morphed into “What Would Jesus Cut?” Jesus would redistribute the wealth and restore justice. Today, leaders will seek to neutralize and/or eliminate disciples who take this Gospel challenge seriously. The power brokers will denounce disciples as fuzzy headed liberals, socialists, or communists. The events of this Holy Week assure us that, in the end, Gospel values will trump the values of Empire.