The Seeking of Justice and Its Consequences

A Reflection for the Fifth Week of Lent from the Center of Concern’s Education for Justice website.  

By Bob Stewart

The Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent reminds us of an unequivocal demand and an uncomfortable truth for all who strive to live as followers of Jesus: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” As one commentator recently noted, this is not agriculture 101, but Christianity 101.

Do we have examples of modern disciples of Jesus committed to the work of justice willing to pay the ultimate price for their commitment, exemplars of discipleship whose deaths, in fidelity to the Gospel, have produced “much fruit”? Consider these two: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the civil rights leader slain in Memphis while there to support economic justice for garbage workers, and Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, slain while presiding at Mass, who publicly criticized his government’s violence and injustice.  Like the Hebrew prophets, these modern prophets called people to do what justice requires. Dr. King, in one of his sermons, said that he wanted to be remembered as a “drum major for justice.” Archbishop Romero manifested with clear moral vision that: “When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises” (8/10/1978).

Catholic biblical scholar Bruce Vawter, CM has referred to the Hebrew prophets as “The Conscience of Israel.” Both King and Romero were committed to calling their contemporaries to do justice, and they continue to inspire others to work for justice even today.  They were the conscience of their nations. Their influence did not end with their deaths; they continue to be celebrated and remembered.

The Seeking of Justice and Its Consequences — A Reflection for the Fifth Week of Lent

The Gospel reading (John 12:20-33) for the fifth Sunday in Lent

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”  Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  Jesus answered them,

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.

The Father will honor whoever serves me.  “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?

‘Father, save me from this hour?’  But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Father, glorify your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”  Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”  He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

 

Reflection Questions

1. Have you ever taken a public stand regarding a social justice issue? What fears did you face in doing so, and how did you manage them? (cf. Matthew 8:26; 10:31; Mark 4:40)

2. Archbishop Romero stated: “The church would betray its own love for God and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being . . . a defender of the rights of the poor.” Is the church, are Christian communities, being faithful to the gospel?

3. What do you consider the “fruit” of the work of Dr. King and Archbishop Romero? Archbishop Romero once said, “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” How do the lives and spirits of Romero and King continue to empower those who work for justice?  (cf. http://www.uscatholic.org/culture/social-justice/

2009/02/oscar-romero-bishop-poor).

In light of the Gospel message for the fifth Sunday of Lent and the example we have in Jesus and these two modern prophets of justice, what is required of us?  Jesus, King, and Romero were all “drum majors for justice.”   They fearlessly spoke out in public regarding injustices that require correction in order to advance the reign of God.   Raising their voices on behalf of the oppressed and vulnerable exposed them to the conscious and unconscious adversaries of justice. While in the current U.S. context, rarely are peoples lives at risk, advocates for social justice may experience social and political consequences.

However, if we do not, who will? What opportunities do we have to be “drum majors for justice” in solidarity with the most vulnerable in our midst? Consider these two possibilities for a start: First, we can commit to becoming informed regarding, in the words of Romero, “the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry (of the oppressed) arises.” Secondly, we can speak up by writing letters or making phone calls that insist on an end to a myriad of injustices, injustices experienced by those whose voices are not being heard in public forums—e.g., failure of legislators to fund programs for the most vulnerable, law enforcement systems that are more interested in vengeance than justice, injustice manifested by state governments toward workers and their families, to name a few.

We can address our concerns to newspapers, TV, and radio news media outlets, legislators (federal and state), church leaders, and organizations and companies who need encouragement in promoting he common good rather than only the interests of

shareholders.  We are called to express and live our solidarity with the most vulnerable in society, and, when we do so, there are often social, political, and economic consequences. Yet, by manifesting our love of God, we become drum majors for peace and justice.

[Let us pray]

In the Catholic tradition, concern for the poor is advanced by individual and common action, works of charity, efforts to achieve a more just social order, the practice of virtue, and the pursuit of justice in our own lives. It requires action to confront structures

of injustice that leave people poor.

A Prayer from “A Place at the Table,” pg. 14

God, we thank you for the prophets you send us.

They provide comfort for the afflicted, and afflict those of us who live as if justice is

peripheral to our faith.

We ask that you open our ears and enlighten our consciences that we may hear the cries  of the oppressed.

We ask that you remove from our midst the social structures that facilitate oppression,

and guide us in helping to do so.

Give us your Spirit, God, that we may have the courage of Dr. King and Archbishop  Romero.

May we stand with your love and compassion even when the consequences are great.

This we ask in the name of your son, Jesus, our brother.  Amen.

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