Armed with justice which is the power of God, let us prove ourselves with great patience’.Daily Office, 31 March 2012.
In the last post/podcast I suggested that the Imitation of Christ is the authentic lens through which we enter into the justice of God. Justice has always been an important foundation of the Christian faith, and for those of us who call ourselves new monastics, we would see an outworking of justice as a core value of what we believe and practice. How we seek to work out our calling to justice is therefore a very real challenge. In this next post I will continue to build on the values of the incarnation as revealed by Jesus the Ikon of Justice in the Gospel of John and Luke.
Announcing and Gestating.
We begin with Mary, the Mother of God. The Archangel Gabriel and the announcement of the conception of Jesus within Mary, is the beginning of God’s intentional act of turning humanity back towards its original purpose. God begins this work of salvation by miraculously appearing in the margins of society.
It is unfortunate that the Protestant church, by marginalising Mary, has robbed so many of us of the radical impact of this moment. Heaven, through its ministering angels, announces the coming of the Son of Man through the body of a poor adolescent. This demonstrates that the incubation of justice does not happen in a limousine, a lawyers frock, or an act of Parliament. It arrives in the womb of a poor woman from among a people who are militarily occupied by a foreign power. If we use an illustration from modern history, justice arrives through the life of a poor, racially oppressed black woman who refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on public transport in Alabama.
He has cast down the mighty from thrones and has raised up the lowly.Luke 1:52-53. Aramaic Bible translated into English.
He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty handed.
Justice does not happen by chance, it is conceived in the womb of the marginalised and shaped and contoured by the experiences of the margins. From this context the body of justice takes shape and is born, nurtured by the experiences of the suffering community until it is ready to find its place, its voice among the people.
Once justice has been born and shaped, it is then announced, a future hope that is articulated to challenge the unjust consensus that deforms humanity and actively prevents humanity from its Godly way of living in freedom. John the Baptist builds on the conception of hope in the womb of the margins and calls humanity to bear witness to its physical arrival. John is the voice that fulfils another crucial element of the characteristic of our beloved justice. John calls us all to change the way we walk, to turn (repent) and cease walking away from God. Justice is announced and embodied in the life of a man. The one we are to walk alongside and whose life we are called to imitate.
Yohannan bore witness of him and cried, saying, “This was he of whom I spoke: ‘He that comes after me is preferred in honor before me, for he had priority over me.’ – I am the voice that cries in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of THE LORD JEHOVAH’, just as that which Isaiah the Prophet said.John 1:15&23 Aramaic Bible translated into English.
Jesus, the embodiment of justice is proclaimed (not as a reaction to an injustice) rather it is the arrival of the fulness of the Kingdom of God in a person in whom dwells the new humanity, the fulfilment of the human aspiration and an Ikon of what it means to be fully human. To enter the new humanity of the Kingdom of God we must exit the world system, the dysfunctional order of how we live and behave.
And if you had been from the world, the world would have loved its own; but you are not from the world, but I have chosen you from the world; because of this the world hates you.”John 15:19 Aramaic Bible translated into English
This liberation of humanity and creation does not reside in the political philosophies of the world. This is a mistake that many Christians understandably make, believing that in promoting a political or an economic ideology they are in some way advancing the purposes of God. We must be honest with the biblical revelation and realise that justice is not owned by conservatives, socialists, capitalists, or liberals. God is not invested into these ideologies and certainly does not endorse them. The announcement of Jesus is not an intellectual reorganising of a worldview, nor is it a confessional theological statement that demands our submission and agreement. It is an economic, moral, social, creational transformational process, a truly wholistic fulfilment of the human condition. Justice is established in giving and accepting the Spirit of Holiness that empowers us to walk as Jesus walked.
John the Baptist opened the door for this opportunity with his baptism of repentance. John painted a world of new possibilities through which people could walk. This new world is an entirely new way of being the ‘children of God’. The point here is that in order for justice to arrive, the new reality must be articulated first. As the body of Christ, (and new monastics within it), we should be seeking to articulate the new reality, help people to see there is a better way, the original way for humanity to live and breathe. This is the essence of ‘the hope’ found in the gospel the opening up of the new landscape of possibilities into which we can enter.
In the lives of Mary and John the Baptist we begin to see the emergence of the wisdom of God in action. How Jesus – the fulfilment of the just humanity – is gestated in the margins of the society, away from those who are powerful, and how the vision of the coming Kingdom of Justice is announced and articulated before it arrives.
The heralding of the spirit of justice in the voice of the prophets and angels, may be the announcement of fresh opportunities, yet this fresh possibility is always contested. In the case of Jesus, the Ikon of Justice, he was opposed from birth. The Incarnation of Justice was contested, through the imperial authorities of the day and the military institutions that supported that monarchy. The Slaughter of the Innocents and flight to Egypt as a refugee (Matthew 2:13-18) continues the incarnational identification with the poor. Jesus was a refugee, an immigrant, a persecuted child from a poor family, that walked in a proverbial migrant caravan to escape the violence of a powerful establishment whose institutional ego would not countenance a threat to its power base and ideological totalitarianism. Hundreds, possibly thousands of children were slaughtered in the name of the state and the perpetuation of what, I am sure, Herod would have justified as ‘the defence of the realm and national security’.
Gods identification with the poor is not theoretical or theological. It is not even ethical or practical, it is truly incarnational. Jesus as the image of the invisible Just God was not just good news to the poor, he was the good of the poor, as he was one of them. This was not a voice that came to the poor from the outside to help them out with social action projects. Here was the God of creation that was birthed from within the poor themselves. This act of redemption was not only an act of mercy and liberation, it was also an act of judgement on the powerful, the elite and the rich. God did not choose the privileged and wealthy as the originating community through which salvation would flow to all of creation. In todays world Jesus and his family would never have got visa status in the UK or USA.
It is sobering and sad to reflect on this fact as we witness the abusive manipulation of the gospel by millionaire mega church leaders who use their platform to convince the masses that their wealth is a sign of Gods blessing and endorsement of their ministry. Blessing or seduction, that is the question? Their model of lifestyle and service is certainly not consistent with the approach that God takes to salvation in the witness of Jesus.
Justice is anticipated through new possibilities articulated from the prophetic margins of our society. This seems to be the way that God intentionally worked out his grand entrance. I would suggest the body of Christ should do likewise. This cry of the poor from the margins is the voice that calls God to intervene in human affairs.
We can only become what we can imagine – ‘We have to change what appears possible’. Restructuring the existing system will not work. Societal freedom is in reality a hollow freedom, as it is predefined by the existing political settlement and consensus. In short the change begins by redefining what is possible. This is why I am a Christian, as God foundationally redefines my hollow existence, and reorientates me to a new way of being. The change comes like a thief in the night. True freedom is the inheritance of the Children of God.
Authentic justice is revealed in the person of Jesus. His conception and gestation in the margins is always the first sign of justice rising. When it has matured it is announced as a new way of being, a way of living as an exemplar of the new humanity. This new humanity is always persecuted by the powerful of the day as a threat to the status quo. The way of justice is the way of Christ and to be embraced and imitated by the disciples of The Word made Flesh.