DEALING WITH INJUSTICES
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [1 KgS 21:17-19; Mt 5:43-48 ]
Upon reading the story of Naboth’s vineyard, we cannot but feel for him at the grave injustice done to him. We are also horrified at Jezebel’s wickedness in scheming to take possession of Naboth’s property in such a way that it had the appearance of a legal takeover. She even used religion to obtain the property dishonestly. She called a fast and accused him of a religious crime for cursing God and God’s representative, the king. “There never was anyone like Ahab for double-dealing and for doing what is displeasing to the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the most abominable way, adhering to idols, just as the Amorites used to do whom the Lord had dispossessed for the sons of Israel.”
Indeed, this is a most unjust and unfair world we live in. The rich have power, influence, and money to apply pressure on others to support them even though they are doing evil things and treating others unfairly. Many succumb to such pressures, tempted by money, promotion, and benefits. We see this in business, office, and politics. We see this even among powerful nations, manipulating the smaller and weaker nations. Many unfortunately either remain silent or cave in to the powerful because they are dependent on them for promotion, business, trade, and economy. Wasn’t this the case of those who corroborated with Jezebel to make false accusations against Naboth so that he could be stoned to death? People have no conscience, even to the extent of using religion for selfish and political interests. From the family to our offices, organizations, society, and the world, we see unjust practices against the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. They have no one to fight for their rights. They are at the mercy of the rich and powerful. They are pressured into cooperating for fear of losing their jobs and rice bowl.
So how do we respond to our enemies? In the world, we are called to destroy them, like what some powerful nations would do today, using their advanced armory, or trade and money to derail their enemies’ economy. They would use threats, military, economic, or financial. But revenge and retaliation is not the way of our Lord. Jesus said to His disciples, “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is the way of the gospel. Many of us cannot do it. Even many Christians retaliate against those who hurt them, using legal means or even illegal ways to get even with their enemies, perceived or otherwise. Few Christians actually live out the gospel of Christ which calls for forgiveness and love for our enemies. No wonder Mahatma Gandhi once told the British Christians in India, “I love your master but I don’t like you all Christians.”
How, then, can we love our enemies and forgive them when we are suffering great injustices? Firstly, Jesus gives us a positive example of how God loves us. He said, “Your Father in heaven, causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike.” Indeed, we are all sons and daughters of God because He is the creator of all. Even if we do not acknowledge Him consciously, it does not mean that we are not His children. So like every parent who loves his or her child, even if the child is naughty, wayward, ill-disciplined, so too the Father’s heart loves us all even when we are rebellious children. He wants us to turn back to Him so that we will not continue to hurt ourselves. Our God is always forgiving and He does not keep a record of our wrongs. If that is the way God loves us, and if we claim that we are His children, His sons, and daughters, then we must also love those whom He loves even when they are difficult to love. Only a greater love for God can give us the capacity to transcend love for self and let our love be directed to our enemies, praying for their conversion.
Secondly, Jesus challenges us as the sons and daughters of His Father not to behave like the pagans. “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” If we love those who love us, we are no better than the pagans. Loving those who love us is not something exceptional. In fact, it is not even true love because love is directed at oneself, not at the other person. If we love the other person, it is only on condition that we are loved. So our love is not for the person’s sake but we are simply using the other person to love us by loving him or her. This is not the way God loves us.
If our love for others is conditional, it means that we do not have the capacity to love. We are loving from our insecure, limited human love, that is a love between friends. We have not risen to agape love, the love of God. This is why Jesus exhorts, “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection is not a moral perfection because as Jesus told the rich man, only God is good. But we are called to perfect ourselves in love, mercy, and forgiveness. As Christians, we must distinguish ourselves from the world. If we retaliate against our enemies, we are no different from them.
How, then, can we find the capacity to love our enemies as Jesus asked of us? How can we not redress injustices done to us? We need to meditate on Christ’s innocent suffering. He too was falsely accused. “Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.” (Mt 26:59f) And as St Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” (1 Pt 2:21-23)
Secondly, we must expose the lies and falsehoods of our enemies and be prophets of justice. This work must be done not out of revenge or self-righteousness or anger, but as a work of love. When Ahab was exposed by Elijah, he said, “So you have found me out, O my enemy.” Ahab was wrong. He thought Elijah was his enemy. Actually, Elijah was his friend because he wanted to help him to be a good king so that he could bring peace and prosperity to the country. He was not against King Ahab. It was his sins that caused him to think that Elijah was against him. This is so true today. The world thinks that Christianity is against life and love and freedom. On the contrary, the gospel wants us to attain true and lasting freedom by living in truth and selfless love. We want the world to live in truth and love, but love must be founded on truth. The world sees us as their enemy. But we are proclaiming the gospel because we love humanity and the world. We do not want to see humanity and creation destroyed. This was why Elijah continued to speak out against King Ahab. He was a true prophet because he did this in love and without personal gain.
Finally, we must leave justice to God. St Paul urges us. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'” By giving in to sin, Ahab eventually paid the price for his evil deeds, together with Jezebel. The prophet said to them, “You have committed murder; now you usurp as well. For this – and the Lord says this – in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, the dogs will lick your blood too.” (cf 1 Kgs 22:38) This prophecy was fulfilled as predicted. Ahab died a shameful death. If the world does not listen to the gospel, humanity will reap the price as well, of a degenerated race and a much divided selfish world that is heading towards annihilation. St Paul warned us, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time.” (Gal 6:7-10)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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