The poor will always be with you.
But do we have to have so many of them?
Lenten meditations on justice and
of Holy Week
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7 -- John 12:1-11
I have called you for the victory of justice, says
the Lord through the pen of Isaiah, speaking of the
Suffering Servant. This is the one who will open the
eyes of the blind, release the prisoners, and bring
light to the darkness. Alas, in this modern world,
"justice" and "victory of" are not often combined.
In today's Gospel, the Suffering Servant is at a
dinner in Bethany and Mary anoints him with a costly
scented oil. Judas, who as we shall see has a lot of
room to talk about anyone else, criticizes this gesture,
claiming the money would be better spent helping the
poor. Jesus replies with his famous statement, "The poor
will always be with you."
How often have we heard this statement quoted to
justify opposition to our work of evangelizing economic
and social structures?
People think that Jesus' prophetic understanding of
the nature of sinful humanity and the structures of sin
we create with our sin somehow justifies the
exploitation and oppression of the modern world.
Of all the possible explanations for these words,
that one isn't even close.
Because the poor are always with us, Jesus' explicit
commands regarding our social relationships take on even
greater urgency. There is much to be done. But is
Congress listening to God's word? Is the President? Are
the various state legislatures in the US, and
parliaments and congresses in other countries, paying
Of course not, the last thing on the mind of the
Oklahoma State Legislature is "how can we help the
poor." Instead, we steal from the poor to give to
the rich. We have so many poor people because that's the
way our system is designed to work. People make big
money off of poverty, so we need plenty of poor people
so we can exploit them. Poverty is not a
perplexing problem without a solution. It is the
known consequence of poor design of social structures
and evil actions by governments. This is not to deny
that personal problems may be a controlling factor in
various individual situations. But seen from a holistic
viewpoint, poverty is the result of the greed and
oppression wielded by the rich and powerful for their
own advantage. This is as true now as it was under
the ancient Roman empire 2,000 years ago.
How well do we listen to God's word in the Church
when it comes to our social and community relationships,
rights, duties, and responsibilities? Yes, I dare to use
the "d" and "r" words. Duties. Responsibilities. Not
"when we get around to it" or "if we have time" or "if
there is any money left over." We have duties and
responsibilities to the poor. Non-optional duties and
responsibilities -- for Church, family,
individual, state, nation, world.
Sadly, the Church has much to answer for in this
regard. The silence of our bishops in the face of
unjust war is a scandal before the world. The
inability of the bishops to teach Catholics about the
proper roles of law and justice and punishment is a
The conspiracy of our bishops and the Vatican to hide
the evil of clerical sexual abuse continues to tarnish
the ministry of the Church. Their material cooperation
with the objective evil of unjust war is a shame and a
scandal. That no one cares about the bishops'
orientation of moral relativism toward war, other than a
few marginal folks here and there, is a further shame
and scandal in the Church. The worldly lives of
luxury of so many of our bishops are nails holding the
hands and feet of Christ to the Cross. Dorothy Day
said that the Church is a Cross on which Christ is
crucified every day.
Jesus Christ was not tortured and murdered so
that 2000 years later, rich First World Catholics could
have lives of luxury, profiting from violence and war,
while giving a pittance of time and treasure to
satisfy the duties and responsibilities of justice.
Time? We should donate time too? Time, treasure, and
We are called for the victory of Justice. From where
does this come? It begins in the Passion of Christ
and covers all time and all people. All of us have
something to do towards that victory. No one is
exempt. Isaiah says to open the eyes of the blind,
to release prisoners from the dungeon. We begin by
examination of eagerness to lock people up in
jails. If the call of Isaiah is to release the
prisoners, we should ask ourselves -- why do we have so
many people in jail?
We criminalize stupidity.
We criminalize immorality.
We criminalize people we are mad at.
We criminalize people so we can make money off of
We criminalize people who make unpopular choices.
We criminalize people because they are poor.
We criminalize people to force them to do what we
think they should do.
We criminalzie people because they are mentally ill.
So it comes to pass that the United States has the
highest prison population in the world -- more than two
million people! Nearly five million people were on
probation or parole! With less than 5% of the world's
population, 23.4% of the world's prison population are
in the United States. 40% of the prison population is
African American (13% of the general population is
African American). Hispanics, 16% of the national
population, are 20% of the prison population.
Half of the people in state prisons are there for
Only 1/5 of the people in city or county jails
were there for violent crimes. Jails are the
primary place where poor and mentally ill people are
locked up because they are poor or mentally ill or
they owe the government money.
Over the past 30 years, the prison population has
grown 400%. The primary driver has been the war on
people who use drugs. Incarcerations for drug
offences grew 1200% since 1980.
Our system of "justice" is not a system of justice,
but a structure of social domination and control.
Possession of a gram of marijuana can and has been
punished in some areas with life in prison.
Meanwhile, criminals such as Al Gore and Bill
Clinton and George Bush I and II live lives of luxury
We should therefore not be surprised when the police
act with injustice and immorality, because thatís the
nature of the structure within which we have embedded
To me, this situation seems rooted in the narcissism of
ME ME ME ME! I am the most important person on the
planet. My wants, my needs, they are the most
important. I have a right to my demands, whatever
they may be.
In fact, people who disagree with me, should be
locked up, right?
Of course not, you reply, that's a terrible thing to
But I think if we look at our criminal justice
system, that we have the system we have because we are
the people that we are. Greedy, narcissistic, cruel, and
without mercy. This is certainly writ large when
the legislatures of our states are in session.
So it cames to pass, that 2000 years later, we are
still crying out CRUCIFY HIM, CRUCIFY HIM!
Prayer intentions today:
Let us pray for all people, but especially those who
serve in Congress and our state legislatures.
+ Bring all people to an understanding of the proper
role of law in our society, we pray to the Lord.
+ Teach us to stop locking people up for unjust
reasons, and release prisoners who are in jail for unjust
reasons, we pray to the Lord.
+ Help us to repent of the crimes of injustice that we
commit, we pray to the Lord.
+ For those who share the responsibility and duty of
teaching Catholic doctrine, that they will break open
the riches of God's Word regarding our social and
community relationships, so that the call to the people
is clear, compelling, and without ambiguity.
+ What are your social duties and responsibilities?
Make a list. Check it twice. Examine your conscience.