-by Br Albert Elias Robertson, OP, English Province
“…Perhaps the first question that we might have from hearing these words from our divine teacher is whether, in a world such as ours, we dare to hope for a truly just society? For Aquinas, justice is twofold; perfect and imperfect. We cannot, Aquinas tells us, have perfect 1 justice in this world, for the structures of injustice are rooted in human sin, and as St John reminds us, ‘…if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’2
So are we doomed to simply thirst and hunger after freedom in a barren wilderness of an unjust world? The hard answer to this is, yes. True justice will, ultimately, elude us in this life, just as true peace and true freedom will too, for as the Apostle tells us, ‘our commonwealth is in heaven.’3 It might be tempting at this point to despair. After all, if we cannot build a just society why bother to try? If the poor will always be with us, why bother to try and clothe and feed them?
Part of the key here, surely, is the thirst and the hunger. It is not enough to simply do the works of justice, to perform acts of mercy and charity, unless you thirst and hunger for justice. We have to work with desire [Ed. need irrepressible]. Just as overcoming lust requires our purification through grace, and the conversion our mind, heart, and sight, so too our deeper conversion helps us to see as Christ Himself sees, and in doing so, our thirst and hunger for justice grows.
If we cannot build a truly just society because of human sinfulness, we can, by God’s grace, build an imperfectly just society. This will require a certain bravery on our part, an openness, and also, sometimes, action. Martin Luther King often spoke out against the reluctance of Christians to act against injustice; ‘I have seen religious leaders stand amid the social injustices that pervade our society, mouthing pious platitudes and sanctimonious trivialities. All too often the religious community has been the taillight instead of the headlight.’
These pious platitudes and sanctimonious trivialities are what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace, a Christian life which is reduced to slogans and soundbites, and where grace ultimately does not take root in us. How then can we avoid pious platitudes and sanctimonious triviality? Only by listening to our Lord’s voice, for He not only reveals to us what the world is really like, but shows us also how to respond to these realities. We must speak boldly of God’s justice, and measure the reality of the world around us by His justice, and not by any human standard, for the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.4”
1 Commentary on Matthew, §427.
2 1 John, 1:8.
3 Philippians, 3:20.
4 Psalm 119:9.