The Victory of Justice

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, AD 2000

Readings Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Mark 1, 7-11

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"Thus says the Lord: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth JUSTICE to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.

"A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering candle he shall not quench, until he establishes JUSTICE on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

"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 blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness." (First Reading)

Three times in this passage of Holy Scripture, the connection is made between justice and the work of the Messiah. We can infer that politics during Isaiah's time was rather noisy and raucous (cf the references to "crying out" and "shouting" in the street). This Justice comes to us, not through such boisterous street politics, but by the will of the Lord. Yet, even though neither its origin nor its end is politics, it appears to have political implications -- dungeons are opened, prisoners are released, and the eyes of the blind are opened.

Some people hope that this doesn't come to pass. If the eyes of the blind are opened, they might see that the emperor to whom we have committed our temporal hopes is naked, "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." Yet, this is the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, an entire year set aside to consider justice, beauty, wisdom, love, renewal, reconciliation. It's not as though these principles aren't important every year, but perhaps the Holy Father sensed the urgency of our times, the great structures that are at play with and in the world, and his call to sanctify this period of time is clear and without ambiguity.

The second reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reminds us that God is not the Lord of Marginalization. He shows no partiality, not by birth, not by ethnic origin, not by social class. "In every nation whoever fears Him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him."

God is looking for both an interior disposition -- and the active result of this disposition as witnessed by our acts, large and small, known and unknown, of both omission and commission. We hear that Jesus, who was anointed by God as Lord over All, "went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him."

Today's Gospel announces the beginning of the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies. Jesus, obedient to the Father, goes to John for baptism and thus occurs one of the "epiphanies" -- "unveilings" of the Reality behind our reality. "This is my beloved Son," he will bring forth justice to the nations, he is the one who has been called for the "victory of justice." He will open the eyes of the blind and release the prisoners.

At the beginning of this Jubilee Year, we celebrated the Incarnation. With great pomp, ceremony, and glorious music we reminded ourselves of the basic truth of our Faith, which begins in a humble manger among the rural peasants of an occupied and oppressed nation.

Immediately thereafter, we are called to count the cost of the Cross as we remember the first Christian martyrs -- St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, and a great martyr who witnessed against the tyranny of the State, St. Thomas Becket. As we savor the presents and parties of Christmas, these remembrances can be uncomfortable reminders of the reality of discipleship. We celebrate the Holy Family, recalling that the Incarnation took place within the original human cultural institution, the family, and we rejoice with Mary as Theotokos, the Mother of God! Then comes Epiphany, where rich and poor, peasants and kings, come to kneel at the manger. Liturgically, the Christmas season ends today, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, a day when we all remember our own baptisms; whether as children or as adults, this is the time God marks us as His own, we are called into a covenanted relationship with His Body, the Church.

Which is an involved and indirect way to get to the point, reminding myself, and any who will listen that God isn't kidding about this Justice stuff. Christ is the Victory of Justice, and we are His Body on earth, and now is the "accepted time of salvation," the day when by our interior disposition and by our exterior actions we build structures of beauty, wisdom, goodness, love, justice, and mercy. Or, by omission or commission, we will support structures of arrogance, violence, exploitation, hatred, injustice, and despair. It's our call.

These times are very turbulent and violent, there are many wars and conflicts raging, and the number are increasing. Most of them we hear nothing about, but every day, every hour, somebody somewhere is killed in battle, their earthly life ended by a bullet, a bomb, a rocket, or a land mine.

In these times, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, and the data is there for anyone to see. Three billion people worldwide live in grinding poverty, with not a lot of hope for something better, and even here in the wealthiest country on the globe, you don't have to go far in most areas to find third world poverty (it's just up the street from me, and a few blocks from downtown Oklahoma City, and maybe even close to your own neighborhood).

This centralization of wealth is contrary to the will of God, the goods of the earth were created for all, not to be devoured by a few while others starve. Moreover, this economic tendency is not an accident. There's a popular superstition these days which suggests that, "Well, this is the way its always been and always will be, and besides, everybody else will get richer too." A rising tide lifts all boats they say, but what does a tsunami do? The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer because that is the what our system is designed to do. It is working perfectly according to plan. Yet these processes are unnatural, disordered, contrary to the will of God, structures of sin, "Satan's plan." But when you base your economic system on the glorification of the seven deadly sins, this is what you get. (As in, "You get what you pay for.")

In 1999, there was a lot of concern about the "year 2000 computer bug," and I was quite pessimistic about what would happen, especially in regard to problems with the big technological systems that are so important to daily life in our complex communities. As it turned out, we passed through the first stages of that challenge without any major collapse, and I am very glad about that. But we do well to remember that it wasn't just a technological problem that muddied the waters and caused concern, far more critical issues were the broken "social systems" characteristic of modern society.

From the beginning, the temptation was to see the situation as solely a technology problem, so we spent hundreds of billions of dollars, averted the catastrophic collapse of our technological infrastructure -- and closed our eyes to the far more critical social and economic problems. We are like a guy who has lung cancer, who goes in for an examination to find out how long he has left to live. But miraculously, the cancer is gone, he has been healed! He's really happy, rushes outside to tell friends and family -- and immediately lights up a cigarette. Thus he shows the universe how much he learned from his concern about the "end of his world." I am also reminded of the lepers that Christ healed, who immediately ran away -- only one turned back to say thanks to the man who had wrought this miracle.

The structures of sin in this world reacted strongly against the idea that there was something wrong with them. They are like the addiction to nicotine -- the instant and short term gratification of smoking is preferable to the long-term risk of death by lung cancer. The "social equation" I talked about in writing about Y2k remains operative: the more marginalized and excluded people in a society, the greater the risk of social disorder. Ignoring the lessons of history is certainly our prerogative, but if we think we can play some kind of "escape the consequences of our actions " card when times get rough, we lower ourselves to the level of "fools with tools."

The final chapter on what is happening in this world today has yet to be written. We have not by a long stretch reached the "end of history." Capitalism and high technology and the American Empire seem to be riding high and mighty, but as our parents and grandparents used to tell us, "pride goes before a fall." It's not over until it's over, whatever the newspapers may say.

This is not a counsel of despair or even pessimism, but a reminder that we are the ones who share in the Victory of Justice which comes through Jesus Christ. It's not for nothing that we call him "Savior of the World." Because of our adoption as sons and daughters of God, it is our responsibility to share also in the work of justice, for we are the "hands and feet" of the body of Christ, here on Earth, and it is our concrete actions of wisdom, beauty, and justice that realize the reconciling promise of Scripture, bringing those who once were "far away" near by the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses us from all iniquities.

On the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is inscribed a passage of Holy Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy -- "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the people thereof," which is from the ancient proclamation of the Jubilee year. During this time, property that had been sold during the previous five decades was returned to its original owners, slaves were freed, debts were canceled, the land was to lie fallow, people were to rest from their labors. 3,500 years ago, people knew the dangers of centralizing wealth and oppressing the poor, and the Jubilee Year was a gift from God to help them avoid these structures of sin in human societies which are directly traceable to the Fall and to the subsequent real and active influence of Evil upon the natural world.

During this Jubilee Holy Year 2000, we at the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House will continue the work we have begun this past year on the ground here in Oklahoma City, and our evangelical work in cyberspace that is now in its third year. We hope to try many things -- some new, some perhaps very old -- as we continue our prudent discernment of how to journey on pilgrimage given the signs of these times. We are very grateful for all of the support we have received, and for the people who come to our webpages (more than 800 people, reading over 1900 pages every day). Some of you have sent money, and because of this kind of help, we have been able to feed more hungry people, shelter more homeless people, and welcome more people who have been rejected and marginalized. Some have sent (or brought) other things -- food, clothing, an icon of Oscar Romero, books, empty 2 liter pop bottles, blankets, socks, cooking equipment. Those we have helped have often asked us to say "thanks" to those who make this possible, so in their name, we say "thank you." Your intentions are often in our prayers.

I tell you frankly, sometimes it seems like bailing an ocean with a slotted spoon. Every week there are phone calls and referrals, each one of them a door opening upon more problems than an army of social workers with unlimited budgets and magical powers could successfully resolve. But whenever I think about this, I also try to remember that solving all problems isn't our job nor is it our responsibility. We can only do what we can, with what we have, where we are. And we have faith that however much this is for us -- and for you, in your own situation, wherever you are -- it will be sufficient, because as we are promised, "My grace is sufficient for you."

Seedtime and harvest: It's always is a miracle. Plant one seed, get back a handful. And, you reap what you sow. If the calls we receive are doors opening onto problems, each one of them is also a Jubilee Holy Door whose threshold is named "Hope".

We thank you for your prayers. We invite you to continue to journey with us. Send us wisdom, laughter, and counsel. Let us together follow the advice of Moses, and by our interior disposition and our actions in the world, proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to all the inhabitants thereof.

Robert Waldrop

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, AD 2000

Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

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+Live simply and justly in solidarity with the poor and marginalized and be a good neighbor. Make no war on them, rather, be one with them in spirit, truth, and love.

+Hear the truth when it is spoken to you. Discern the signs of the times and speak truth -- to power, to the people, and to the Church.

+Make injustice visible -- witness, remember, teach, proclaim, tell. Light candles, do not curse the darkness.

+Protect the poor and powerless-- listen, learn, educate, organize, empower participation, and respect life from the moment of conception to the time

of natural death.

+Work for reconciliation with truth, evangelism, catechesis, orthopraxis.

+Celebrate life, goodness, beauty, virtue, responsibility, and joy. Practice peace, non-violence, servant leadership, harmony, community, voluntary cooperation, and the proper stewardship of God's creation.

Pray without ceasing.

+ Ensure fair distribution, subsidiarity, economic opportunity, justice, and food security for everyone everywhere.

The Works of Justice and Peace are a statement of the mission and purpose of the Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House

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