Si quieres paz, lucha por la justicia.
For today’s reflection I was allowed to select from a series of optional passages. So I was able to elicit a theme from these readings, which I think is captured by the Spanish rendition of a quote from Pope Paul VI – if you want peace, work for justice. The theme seems important to consider on July 4 – the celebration in the United States of independence, and especially in the year 2005 – when the U.S. is embroiled in a foreign entanglement of apparently worsening conditions, with increasing questions on political leadership.
A footnote to the excerpt from Isaiah reminds the reflector that “extraordinary peace and prosperity comes . . . under just rulers.” But who are just rulers? What sets them apart from unjust rulers? For a ruler to be just is there something more expected than merely holding office legitimately under the political process?
The responsorial psalm provides an answer. The just ruler defends the oppressed, saves the poor, and crushes the oppressor. The just ruler rescues the poor who cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. The just ruler shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. I find it telling that this description of just rulerness focuses on the good that the ruler is able to do in alleviating the plight of the least respected, not on the power that such person might have to exert his or her own will. I also see the oppressor who is confronted as one who actually harms the people in their neediness and poverty, not one who potentially threatens their interests or securities.
James reminds us that the fruit of our labors can be peace only if we have good motives, those derived from the humility that comes from wisdom; wisdom expressed as good acts and not as jealousy and selfish ambition. So the just ruler acts wisely and altruistically, not narrowly and selfishly, with the expectation that the ruler will lessen the poverty of those served.
And the Sermon on the Mount reminds me that the poor among us are not just materially deprived, but emotionally, and physically, and psychologically, and spiritually beset by challenges that distract them from the wisdom that comes from God. Just leaders are challenged to serve all the poorness they confront. They themselves can be the poor among us if they fail to follow the admonition of the psalmist to confront oppression and serve the poor.
And so, on this July 4, 2005 my prayer is for our leaders, elected and otherwise. I pray that they can see the oppressed among us and use their power to seek justice for them. I pray that our leaders perceive poorness as more than material poverty, and that they have the wisdom to counteract their own jealousy and selfish ambition. And I pray that our leaders will help us all work for the justice that will inexorably result in peace.
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