A Love Called Justice

POST BY PNicholson

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In today’s gospel the people of his home town turn against Jesus, and try to do away with him by pushing him over the brow of the steep hill that there town is built on. No-one has ever tried to push me over the brow of a cliff! Don't get me wrong - most of the time I'm very grateful for that; but I do sometimes wonder why not. I’ve been, for the best part of forty years, a Jesuit, a very public follower of Jesus. But no-one, in all that time, has ever attacked me for this in the way they attacked him frequently. Maybe it's just that people have become nicer in the last 2,000 years. Or maybe there's more to it than that.

Why was it that they were attacking Jesus? For what he said, presumably. And to see that, you have to remember last week's gospel, because this week we hear no more than the fact he'll not be accepted. In the full account of his preaching given in last week’s gospel, Jesus makes words of Isaiah his own: "He sent me to bring the good news to the poor". By saying this, he puts himself on the side of the rejects of society, more than with the comfortable.  Those who are comfortably-off, he confronts with the words he speaks, as Jeremiah did. His message is that it is not the poor who bring about their own misery; it is the comfortable who make them rejects.

To preach like this in the name of love, and not of hatred or class warfare seems strange to us. Most often for us love is seen as something emotional, something to be found between individuals, or maybe in small, intimate groups. You only have to think of the ways love is pictured in the Valentine cards that fill the shops just now to see that. These readings offer a useful reminder that love has a broader, more challenging aspect to it. Someone once put it starkly - love at the level of society has a new name, justice.

It is in the name of this love called justice that Jesus challenges his hearers to respond. What are they going to do to help those they know to be worse off than themselves? He won't accept the easy answers, that they're already fully committed, or doing all they possibly can. He wants a radical response, and what’s more he isn't afraid to live out the implications of it himself. But because they can't find it within themselves to answer as radically as he does, instead, they ask who he thinks he is, and then try to do away with him.

For some years after my ordination I was the justice & peace worker for the Lancaster diocese. That involved trying to help people hear what Jesus' call to justice meant in their own lives. It was a good job, and I enjoyed it. But no-one, even there, ever tried to push me over the brow of a cliff. As followers of Christ, we’re called to help keep each other up to the mark in faithful and radical discipleship. So hearing this gospel today, you might ask yourself: when did you last have to defend yourself for promoting that love which is justice?

Paul Nicholson SJ