The Word Embodied

Justice Done in Faith

“Fulfilled in your hearing. ... ’”

Perhaps the most constant failure of Christians is our reluctance to take our own Gospels seriously and entirely. We have an uncanny ability to block out those portions of scripture that challenge our prejudices and to magnify those that confirm our own advantage.

A question much ignored these days is whether our faith has anything to do with justice, economics, capitalism, poverty, or other sociopolitical issues. We have pried open a yawning gap between the world of faith and the world of “real” issues. As a result, we never have to worry about changing our behavior or confronting our culture.

Groups often linked to evangelical values provide an odd confirmation of this. Think about it for a moment. What issues are associated with the powerful new Christian Coalition: Forgiveness? The poor? Liberty for captives? Setting the downtrodden free? Caring for the wounded? No, usually these groups are trumpeting their own enlightened self-interest or some other value more rooted in market imperatives than Gospel ones. Even books about “the virtues” and pundits harping about moral decay seem wholly unaware of the spell that capitalism has cast upon us.

This is quite strange for a people that contends that its way is the way of the Lord Jesus. After all, Christ actually began his own ministry, his own preaching under the power of the Spirit, with the great words of the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.”

What kind of Contract with America might be generated from such a declaration? What State of the Union might be crafted? Would we hear of belt-tightening for the poor? Tax relief for the middle class? Ridicule of the welfare recipient? Bigger walls to shut out immigrants?

This is not a matter of Democrat versus Republican. Neither party works out of evangelical conviction, unless religion is used to support some ideology of right or left. The common conviction both parties share deeply is about money and self-interest. Even care for the poorest and most threatened among us, the unborn, is moved to the back burner by pragmatists now more interested in capital gains.

That’s called politics.

But a politics engaged in by men and women of faith is a politics shaken and transformed by faith. The words of Isaiah, spoken by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel, are supposed to be fulfilled in the hearing of them. We make his words real, we make our faith real, only if we allow it entry into our real world. That is the world of life and love, of people in society, of nations, of economies. Without that entry, Jesus’ ministry is enfeebled. Our faith becomes the lazy lap dog of acculturated tastes and seats of power.

There are surely humanistic reasons for opposing the death penalty and abortion, for more fair distribution of wealth and the world’s gifts, for the use of talents and expertise in service rather than obscene self-indulgence.

But when a Christian opposes murder on death row or in hospital delivery rooms, when a Christian proposes an economy of service rather than greed, it is not just a matter of human calculation. For us, it is a matter of faith. It is a matter of whether we really believe the words we have heard and the actions we have seen in Jesus, who represents most fully to us God’s will and our mission.

John Kavanaugh, SJ

Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson