Hands held high in jubilant praise, the business of worship as a roar of sound, pressing crowds at the holy place, and a hoard of beasts led to slaughter. All are scrupulously completed, and yet, says the living God: “I will hide my eyes from you; … I will not listen” (Isa. 1:15). “I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity” (Isa. 1:13). “Your hands are full of blood” (Isa. 1:15b). Evil, injustice, oppression are all, like blood, running from fingers to wrists, dripping from the arms of the “righteous.” God will not be mocked!
Thus the people are called to repentance. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings; … cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice” (Isa. 1:16-17). Justice, a beautiful biblical word, is misunderstood if used only in reference to individual claims, redressing a single injustice by the rule of law. Rather, justice pertains to a complex web of relationships and the shared responsibility to protect human flourishing. The call to “rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow” is not a summons merely to personal sanctity but a call for social solidarity and compassionate outreach. Given the complexity of human communities, and the ease with which they fall into depravity, the call of justice must be a call for constant reformation and repentance. The work of justice is “the fruit of order, implanted in human society by its divine founder, accomplished by people who are thirsting always for a more perfect justice [perfectiorem semper iustitiam]” (Gaudium et spes, n. 78). The striving is never over; the battle is not yet won.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy commend the church for the justice flourishing in its midst. The Thessalonian faith is firm and their hands clean in the work of mutual care and in the shared burden of persecution. “We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thess. 1:3-4). By their good resolve and work of faith the name of Jesus is glorified.
Jesus is the one who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility and has created in himself a new humanity in which the good of each person is a matter of concern to the whole body. Gathering this universal community, Jesus faces one limitation. Among all the sorts and conditions of men (and women and children), Jesus sees the image of his Father, the beauty of faces he wills to illumine, the texture of skin; he hears the vibration of voice. He attends to every detail in the deepest love of his being, and yet he sees, because love is truthful, an infection festering in every human heart. He may call only sinners.
A little man named Zacchaeus garnered his wages from fellow Jews to support the occupying Roman state. With his wealth came the despising gaze of his neighbors. One day Jesus was approaching. Zacchaeus, wanting to see him, climbed a sycamore tree. Jesus called out to him. Zacchaeus then opened his purse to the poor. A sinner is home and justice is a bit more perfect. A sinner is forgiven and the heavens rejoice, and the earth too: “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away” (Ps. 32:1)! Justice seasoned with joy!
Look It Up
Read Luke 19:1-10. Children love this, and you are still a child.
Think About It
Start at home. Is love mutual, are responsibilities shared?