THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF JUSTICE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EPHESIANS 2:1-10; LUKE 12:13-21 ]

There is this instinct in every man to seek justice.  The poor seek justice because they are deprived of the necessities of life.  The average person also seeks greater justice in the distribution of this world’s goods because others have more than him.  The rich also seek justice because they feel they are entitled to more because they work harder than the rest.  Indeed, no one seems contented with what they have.  We never have enough to satisfy us.

Indeed, this was the case of the man who brought his unhappiness to the Lord because his brother did not give him a share of his inheritance.  He felt he was entitled to a share of the estate. He wanted Jesus to help him to resolve his quarrel with his brother.  This situation is still very common today.  How often have we had siblings fighting over their parents’ estate because they felt that they did not get their fair share!

However, Jesus did not deal with the specific issue raised.  Instead, He helped the man to see the bigger issue underlying his demand for justice.  The underlying reason was greed, selfishness and attachment.  It could possibly be right that legally, he was entitled to the share of the inheritance.  However, did he really need the inheritance to be happy in life? Could he do without it?  Was he dying of starvation?  And what is enough?  Poverty is relative.  In Singapore, if you do not own a mobile phone, a TV, a refrigerator and air-con, you are considered poor.   Therefore, the word “justice” is also relative.  What is a just wage?  The truth is that the word “enough” does not exist in our vocabulary.  Jesus warns us, “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.”

The principles of justice are highlighted in today’s scripture readings.  Firstly, everything belongs to God.  This is what the responsorial psalm expresses.  “Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Come before him, singing for joy.  Know that he, the Lord is God.  He made us, we belong to him, we are his people, the sheep of his flock.”  We are all the sheep of God.  Creation is given to all of humanity.  No one owns the earth.  It is the common property of all.  So whenever we have more than what others need, we have no right to retain them.  The wealth of this world is to be shared with all, especially those who are deprived of the basic needs of life.  Indeed, it is a great injustice that the richest 1% owns half the world’s wealth, even if what they own are legally theirs.  Whatever we have ultimately belongs to the Lord and comes from Him.

Secondly, the Lord reminds us that happiness in life does not increase simply because we have more wealth and things.  It is an illusion to think that if we have more money, our life will be made more secure and happy.  Some of the most miserable people in the world today are those who are rich and famous; some have even committed suicide!  This was what the rich man in the parable thought, after a good harvest.  He said, “I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.”   This is what we all think; that if we have plenty of money, we can retire and we will be happy.  Have we asked those who are retired whether they are really much happier than when they were working?  Some fall into depression and sickness because they do not put their body and brain to good use.  In the final analysis, we cannot stop working in life because work gives us a sense of purpose, meaning, hope and keep us healthy.

Thirdly, happiness in life is not about acquiring things but building meaningful relationships with God and with our fellowmen.   Jesus warns those who live in false security when He said, “‘Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?’ So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.”  Money and resources are means to an end.  They alone cannot make us happy unless we use them for the service of our fellowmen.  When we use what we have to spread joy around us by helping the needy, caring for the sick and building friendships through meaningful activities, that is what makes us happy.  Great joy is ours when we bring joy to the joyless and the hopeless.  Looking at their smiling faces and grateful hearts fill us with the joy of God that money cannot buy.

So in the final analysis, we should not be seeking justice and our rights but the justice and rights of the really poor.  Otherwise, our desire for justice springs from greed, wanting to have more and more.  It comes from attachment to what we have, even when we do not really need them.  It comes from selfishness because we only think of our needs and security.  The only justice that is permitted is for those who are not given the basic sustenance in life.  If we have food and shelter and a bed, we can be happy wherever we are.  We do not need much to be happy.  To have more is no guarantee of happiness.   Rather, it is when we are loving, caring, making use of our time and talents to help and serve others, that we find happiness.  In giving things to others and our time, we receive love and joy in return.

This is the way God regards us who are sinners through and through. In the first reading, St Paul wrote, “You were dead, through the crimes and the sins in which you used to live when you were following the way of this world, obeying the ruler who governs the air, the spirit who is at work in the rebellious.  We all were among them too in the past, living sensual lives, ruled entirely by our own physical desires and our own ideas; so that by nature we were as much under God’s anger as the rest of the world.”   However, in spite of our sinfulness and deserving of God’s punishment, the justice of God is not to take revenge on us or to exact from us what we deserve.  Rather, “God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.”

The truth is that none of us are worthy before God.  We cannot save ourselves by our own merits.  It is not the good works we do or anything we could do to earn our salvation.  Rather, St Paul wrote, “it is by grace that you have been saved through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit.  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.”   God saved us in Christ.  Through Christ, we know that we are loved and forgiven.  Through Christ, we know we are God’s masterpiece.  Through Christ, we know that the way to fullness of life is through death to sin.  Through Christ, we are given the capacity to live the authentic life He has shown to us.

We could do this only because God has shown “for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace.”  If we live a good life now, it is not because we can earn our salvation but because we are grateful for the grace, we have received.  When we realize how unworthy we are and how undeserving we are of His mercy and love, we will desire to show our love in return by loving Him and loving our brothers and sisters.  This is true not just of God’s mercy in forgiving us our sins but also in every area of life.  If only we are grateful for the gifts we have received, our wealth, talents and health, we would not abuse them but use them for the good of our fellowmen and for the greater glory of God.  We will not keep them for ourselves, since we have received from God freely.    As Jesus in the gospel says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay.”  (Mt 10:8)


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  • Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
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