Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Fourth Sunday of Easter

In each of today’s readings, we are invited to recognize Christ’s resurrection as a reality that transforms how we live and how we serve others every day. Most of us have some responsibility for others and so today’s gospel is for all of us especially those - parents, teachers, priests and bishops - who are entrusted with vulnerable people. The image of God as shepherd is central to the Bible. In Ezekiel it rebukes uncaring and unjust leaders. In Psalm 23, it is one of comfort and protection. It is a powerful symbol of Jesus, the humble servant who lays down his life for others. Prior to being enthroned in theology and art as imperial ruler or a tortured victim, Jesus was shepherd, teacher, and healer.

From a life of downward mobility, his life ended as a nuisance to power that led to being crucified between thieves following his final lesson to his disciples as a foot-washing slave.  Pope Francis often uses this image, and we remember his call for those in leadership, indeed all of us, to take on the smell of the sheep through our encounter with others.

The first reading and the psalm remind us: ‘The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone’ (Ps. 118:22). Jesus was isolated, on the fringes, and rejected, sharing that status with many among us who were rejected and are now the cornerstone. The gospel underscores the call to seek out marginalised people and welcome them without terms and conditions. We are called toward a radically inclusive community that dignifies all people. There are people who wonder what their role in the Church they love so much is when it seems to go out of its way to remind them that they will never be accepted or welcomed. We are called to take on the courageous role of a good shepherd. We need to build together and strengthen the foundation set by Christ. The first reading presents Jesus as a builder who used the bricks of love as foundational. Being good leaders involves recognising the gifts in others, rather than rejecting them and seeing them as the bricks Jesus uses to build. Each of us is deemed to be worthy of being part of this building, and so is everyone else. There is no room for lukewarm encounters from the church or muted responses to injustice and inequality. Violence of silence. This gospel call is revolutionary. It is an in-breaking of God’s reign and how God is present in our lives. This does not exclude sacrifice. Jesus’ rising from the dead calls us to live life differently. Today’s Good Shepherd image recalls God as shepherd who provides, comforts, guides, and protects, but the context is not just be a comfort but to touch consciences. It is a call to servant leadership. We do not get peace without justice. We do not get justice without taking a courageously active role in building a system that truly protects and supports the natural rights and dignity of every human, irrespective of creed, race, ethnicity, orientation, ancestry, and every other label we ascribe ourselves.


The Vatican’s recently published document Dignitas Infinita (‘Infinite Dignity’). Unfortunately, secular media has focus on the fourth and final section of the document that criticized gender theory, sex change and surrogacy with little attention to other “grave violations of human dignity” such as poverty, war, the travails of migrants, human trafficking, sexual abuse, violence against women, euthanasia and assisted suicide, the marginalisation of people with disabilities, and digital violence. Little, if any, attention went to the introduction and first three sections that explained the theological foundations of human dignity that have developed over time with “a growing awareness of the centrality of human dignity” or sacredness of person is reflected today in the words of 1 John, ‘Think of the love that God has lavished upon us, by calling us children of God.’ Unfortunately, misunderstanding and misrepresentation of scholarly and scientific work in the areas of sexuality and gender leads to hurtful conclusions and ideas harmful to transgender, nonbinary and other LGBTQ+ people. It does not reflect the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity that calls for listening to the voices of people with lived experiences who will be most affected by decisions. We often miss everyday miracles where people continue to form stable, committed love relationships and raise children in them; they defy the stereotypes of hedonism and promiscuity; they dare to ask for a blessing of their unions or be married; they dare to ask to have their children baptised in the church. One great miracle is how many remain in the Church despite its efforts to make them feel unwelcome. Like the apostles, they continue to live their gospel values.


It is with these that Jesus identifies because they are considered the ‘least of God’s people.’ It was a message of comfort, solidarity and presence to vulnerable people, people in despair and powerless. It is also a challenge to conscience. God sides with those afflicted by human injustice. Can we look deeply into the eyes of those we fear, hate or despise, reject and condemn to find there is nothing to fear or hate or despise or reject or condemn? Might we embrace them as beloved of God, and equal partners in life's endeavours?


Pope Francis, when speaking of shepherds, is mindful of many people who have left the church because they have been scandalised or felt abandoned in their struggles, have not been listened when in reality it is the voices of people unjustly treated or oppressed are the voice of God. These are the wounded and hurting Jesus amongst us. The image of Jesus with his disciples is one that bears wounds in his hands, feet and side. They call us to work to reverse policies that create inhumane conditions. The church, which includes all of us, can remain silent and complicit in the face of many injustices, or speak against them. We cannot claim to be mature Christians and true followers of Jesus if we see suffering, pain, violence, destruction (our Earth) and do not respond. Jesus speaks in terms of nurturing and protection; of giving one’s life for the other which must include ‘mother’ earth. We need to include the suffering of the non-human as well as human world to be faithful to the gospel. The credibility of the gospel is at stake when we fail to respond as we have in so many places to the genocide that is occurring in the Holy Land, the devastation of Mother Earth, the treatment of women in the church, and the wars that rage in so many countries. The call to care and love and show compassion cannot be spiritualised. Justice is the public face of love. It is always concrete. Jesus still stands among us offering God’s ‘shalom’ (peace) as gift and challenge to make the world look more like God’s world. It always means recognising and responding to the ‘wounds’ in people rather than driving more spikes and nails into them. It reflects God’s all-embracing care. God’s name is Mercy.


As we listen to God’s voices coming to us through the groans of our sisters and brothers, the non-human world and that of the earth, will we respond by expanding our circle of compassion to include ‘strangers,’ not only human strangers from other cultures and faiths; but strangers from other species, different yet intimately connected with us? Jesus reveals a God without borders. This contrasts with the way we treat all that is vulnerable among us. Fear, hatred, greed is never far below the surface when injustice and inequality exist, and we easily find ways to take out our anger and fear and racist attitudes on those who are not like us and cannot defend themselves.


The image of Jesus with his disciples is one that bears wounds in his hands, feet and side. The point to risk love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that only a suffering God can help. It was only the God that mattered. Bonhoeffer said that our sacrifices bring life to the world and help us to connect with God. We cannot claim to be mature Christians and true followers of Jesus if we see suffering, pain, violence, destruction (our Earth) and do not respond.


We were born to be good shepherds. It means ensuring that we do not lose sight of the sacredness of others. We are called to be a light that make all the difference, even for a moment, for someone.  May we all find life in the work we do by sowing love and extending kindness.


Shepherding God,

Whatever we might ask for ourselves,

may we also ask for the world.

When we look at the world,

may we also see ourselves,

And may we come to know that

you reside in both us and the world, equally,

and are drawing us to a place where we may live without fear.


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