Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

We are invited to proclaim a hope to our world by addressing issues of justice, peace, and genuine human development for all God's people despite war and terrorism, an ongoing pandemic, poverty and injustice, dishonesty and manipulation of the truth and propaganda, political expediency, and the harsh effects of climate change. The stories of Advent are meant to shape how we are called to be as followers of Christ as the truth teller, the God-bearer the forbearing elder, the righteous ‘mensch’ and the faithful questioner. In playing these roles, we must also look to the other players around us in a community of supporting roles to one another.

In Mark, John the Baptist is leading people into the wilderness – that space of subversion outside of imperial control. The Romans considered it as consisting of uncontrollable savage or barbarian people and wild animals who needed to be subdued and conquered for peace and prosperity to be ushered in. So, right up-front Mark’s counter-imperial message occurs in the wilderness. The political message is clear. Last week, we were exhorted to stay alert and stay awake. But, for what? He uses the word for gospel – evangelion –almost exclusively used by Roman messengers to announce a military victory, to repudiate this Empire, and all empires, as being in opposition to God’s ‘reign.

Jesus breaks into the world from the margins, from unexpected places, from places where sensible people would not emerge. Without wielding military might, he steps outside the prevailing power structure into wild spaces full of creative energy and sees the world through a new set of lens and categories. So, for us, our journey begins by extracting ourselves from the ‘known world’ and going into the wilderness. Recently, school students have stepped into the wilderness of the Climate Change Movement and pro-Palestine marches. They questioned the givens of their lives despite possible punishment when police responded to the voices emerging from the wilderness to protest new coal mines at Newcastle Coal Port and justice for Palestine. The dominant culture, the old culture, the privileged culture, from its social location determines the ethics of these actions. But Mark calls us from the world as we know it into the wilderness to imagine a new future for our planet. The world that was and is stuck in its old, sinful and destructive patterns can be made new and alive because God comes and there is no limit to the ways in which God comes.


Mark is raising our expectations that something new is happening with the coming of Jesus. It is a new creation. Jesus operates outside of Roman control. We know that empires come and go, but those who follow God’s way persevere throughout history. Though people wish for dramatic actions to bring about this new creation, the truth is that the dramatic has already happened but can be impeded by us being asleep. God’s new beginnings need our participation.


Isaiah offered encouragement to a people adrift in a state of confusion. There is hope for a new beginning as he is told to ‘speak tenderly (to the heart) to Jerusalem’. God’s power is revealed as a shepherd who holds close to self the broken and vulnerable. And this is a call to us.


We need people and movements who will wake us up to what is happening around us, to remind us that there are people around us who are hurting and suffering and unjustly treated, that our Earth is suffering; to remind us that God is present in each situation of hurt, suffering and devastation. There are people who courageously advocate for others, raise their voices, and stand in solidarity with people to promote human dignity. They stick their necks out to advocate for those on the lowest rung; those unfairly treated and vilified by church and state – and can pay a high price.


Though the Church has often failed to be prophetic to demonstrate its commitment to God’s reign of nonviolence, the challenge remains – and is renewed - to embody what we proclaim by everyday acts of justice, inclusivity, kindness, compassion, and generosity. These are made concrete in concern for the poor and marginalised, the broken and grieving, the excluded and rejected. Isaiah and John express a deep sense of passion and care for people. They express God’s heartbeat and passion for humanity by offering reassurance and comfort: ‘Comfort, my people. Comfort them!’ We heard last week that God is silent in the face of injustice, but the truth was that many so-called ‘shepherds’ were silent as they are today. People have left the institutional church for lack of leadership and in the gospel headed for the wilderness to hear John proclaim God’s concern for their oppression and need for justice.


Many unlikely people among us have become ‘prophets’ to remind us of the humanity of people made faceless and anonymous by confronting corruption, abusive government systems, lies and injustices. They show us that change is possible and remind us that our humanity is bound up with the most vulnerable – and to see the face of Jesus hidden in every person. Comfort was proclaimed for a suffering people, but those lulled into comfort in the face of evil needed to be awakened.


Advent calls us to wake up, pay attention, find the glimmers of light in the overwhelming darkness, and find hints of progress, to take courage, and realise that God is at work among us and through us. The readings today remind us that God comes to be in our midst. As we saw last week, we are to be on the lookout for the presence of Christ who inhabits our every loss, who is present in each devastation, who is present in betrayals and infidelities, and gathers us up.


There are echoes of the psalm in 2Peter who looks for a new heaven and a new earth ‘where righteousness is at home’ and where we ‘strive to be found by [God] at peace’. First Nations’ people have been colonised, brutalised, and dispossessed around the world. In Australia, we have failed to fully recognise and acknowledge what our presence has meant to the First peoples of this land. We refuse to acknowledge the humanity of asylum seekers whose spirits have been broken and lives put on hold by our harsh laws. We fail to acknowledge how greed and over-consumption contributes to the destruction of the Earth and the animal world. We overlook how our ties to the USA implicate us in the murder of innocent people overseas for the sake of ‘our security.’


Our call is to continually extract ourselves from the world of empire, of domination, of greed, of neglect and injustice. The call is to turn away from the world as we know it and imagine a new future for our relationships, connections and for our planet. Today’s readings call for action – to cooperate with God to bring about God’s reign. It will not come about in a vacuum but exists in the liminal moments of daily life that point to something bigger. Julia Baird quoting George Eliot wrote in Middlemarch speaks of ‘the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.’ The unhistoric act is what makes a difference but does not find itself in the media or history books. Matthew listed these at the final judgement (chapter 25) where feeding the hungry, or clothing someone or welcoming a stranger, matters. Baird continues, ‘The world depends on us treating strangers not just like random lumps of flesh, but creatures of depth, with hearts and frailties. On us giving a stranger the benefit of the doubt……… because you never know the weight of the pack on that stranger’s shoulders, or how much time they have left on earth. On us standing with the oppressed and abused, the vulnerable and ignored, and listening in silence and sympathy…….. And on us recognising that none of us deserves to live in a world of such unbearable, fragile beauty, and that miracles can be wrought when we allow people, and ourselves, to be human. To walk alongside each other, despite everything’ (Julia Baird, Bright Shining: How grace changes everything). It is in the strength of communities coming together in the face of despair, and in the small wins achieved in the fight for justice. This reign is here but is still to come as war continues to reign, antisemitism and Islamophobia increase, teenage loneliness and suicide are epidemic, and the climate crisis causes extreme weather. So, we must prepare the way. Martin Luther King Jr said that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice.’ We cannot wait, because it does not bend on its own but through the efforts of people together. He calls out the ‘appalling silence and indifference of the ‘good people’ who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’


Let us not sit around and wait for others, particularly our leaders, to be ready for change. We all have a part to play and often it is with those ‘unhistoric’ acts just mentioned. The ‘arc of justice’ is long, but we cannot do it alone. Who of us will echo his voice? Who of us will respond? We need voices that will speak loudly and bravely of the implications of God’s presence in the world.



Naomi Shihab Nye

1952 –

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


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