Sister Ana Cloughly, OSB reflects on the scripture readings
God of Justice
I’d like to start my reflection with the first reading from Baruch.
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the might that displays the glory of the eternal name. For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
You will be named by God forever the Peace of Justice.
As we deepen our Advent prayer and reflection, we hear a very inspiring promise given to the Hebrew people. This poetic promise that God makes doesn’t seem to fit with the sometimes very violent thrust of the Hebrew Scriptures. How do the Hebrew people become the Peace of Justice?
I think it is in their faithfulness and hope, even when they no longer hear the word of God spoken through the voice of prophets.
The last prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures to speak the word of God to the people was Malachi. At that time, it is said, the Shechinah departed from Israel.
The word of God came to John the Baptist 400 years later. Can you imagine trying to stay faithful and hopeful as generation after generation live and die and not a single discernible word from God? And in those 400 years Israel is occupied by the Greeks and then by Rome.
Knowing the background helps me to understand why the Gospel of Luke situates John the Baptist’s appearance in a specific time in history. He is the prophet for whom the Hebrew people had been waiting. They had been waiting for 400 years. 400 years waiting in expectant hope for the promise that they will see the God of Justice prevail over their occupiers. Yes, God would fulfill this promise of justice not only for the chosen people but for all the nations (and in our day, to the Earth).
When we call God the God of Justice, what are we actually saying?
There are several definitions for the word justice.
Legal justice – people getting what the deserve for having been convicted of a crime.
Justice is used as a title – chief Justice Ginsburg.
Justice is also a way of being. Treating people fairly, giving them the dignity they deserve as human beings.
I believe the last definition of justice is the one ancient Israel attributed to God. And it is the definition many religions, and believe it or not, even some corporations use today.
We call this form of justice ‘distributive Justice’ – giving to each person what they need to live a life of wellbeing.
It is interesting to note the images Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah are earthly and unfathomable; valleys filled in, mountains made low and crooked ways made straight. In these images, God becomes the great equalizer. For John, the word of God heralded the coming of God to Israel but shifted the work of preparation to the people. They needed to prepare the way of the Lord. The baptism John offered was of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In that time, the cultural understanding of sin was not a private affair as we understand it today. Sins undermined the social fabric of life. Repentance was public and for the good of all. Repentance meant reorienting your life toward God. John’s work was to proclaim God’s coming. God’s promise of justice was imminent. It’s no wonder then that John was a fiery prophet. What was to come was a total game changer. The people would be clothed in justice, and it would also be God’s name for them, “the Peace of Justice.” God was coming and the people needed to be ready.
Do we truly believe God will be faithful to the promise to bring about justice?
I have to admit that I took the vivid imagery in this gospel reading literally until now. I imagined the leveling of the way of the Lord to be a personal path. However, as I’ve meditated on this Sunday’s readings, my mind ventured to new places. God’s path is global. The valleys, hills, and mountains represent a lack of justice. People have too little, others having far more than they need. And, in today’s world, we are aware of the ways we act with injustice toward our planet, destroying ecosystems and causing numerous species of animals and plants to go extinct because of our desires to have the earth’s resources for ourselves. God’s justice extends to all of creation. How does knowing this reality impact how I distinguish between my wants and my needs?
Jesus said he would return, and we wait in fidelity and faith.
John called out for repentance and prepared the people of his day for the coming of the Christ. And Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. The Shechinah of God is with us again. The God of Justice has come in the person of Jesus, the Son of God. He is with us now and yet we wait for his second coming. There is still much to do to level mountains and fill in valleys. And so, the Church proclaims again the Baptist’s call, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” How do I prepare his way? How do you?