Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Tenth Sunday of the Year

This week’s readings are about matters of the heart – but if we need a soft and cuddly Jesus, or one to affirm our sense of order, or our spiritual comfort zones, today’s gospel reading might not be useful. Jesus confronted so-called ‘unholy’ and ‘unclean’ spirits that can twist the human heart and crowd out what is good and spacious in life. Jesus challenged the old ways and was accused of blasphemy. Imagine telling desperate people that their sins were forgiven. Imagine encouraging people to abandon traditional ways of thinking about God and embrace their own experiences. 

Imagine interpreting the scriptures in new and challenging ways that brought discomfort and outrage among religious leaders. Richard Glover in 2018, ‘Why Cynicism is the new naiveté’ (https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/richard-glover-on-the-rise-of-the-new-cynicism-20180522-h10dyj.html), referred to a cynicism where people could only see greed in others, corruption in institutions, and self-interest in politicians. Cynicism has no boundaries as it sees no good only self-interest, evil intent, manipulation, and conspiracy. The problem, according to Glover, is that it robs us of the desire to better things and transform systems.

This is where the gospel is instructive. Imagine telling people that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of welcome, embrace and inclusion for strangers, for people in trouble, and for new ideas and new hope.  Where people saw a weasel of a man, tax-collector and traitor in Zacchaeus, Jesus saw a ‘son of Abraham’. Where people whispered and gossiped about a woman, married, and divorced five times, Jesus saw a potential witness to her community. Where people saw a Roman soldier as an occupier, Jesus marveled at his faith. When religious leaders labeled a woman a sinner, she was proclaimed forgiven and faith filled. When people labeled a blind man an uneducated sinner, Jesus saw a believer who proclaimed God’ presence in the restoration of his sight.  Such things could have been socially threatening as well concerning to family.


Imagine saying that when his family came to take him away, saying, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother’. This sweeping gesture by Jesus included everyone around him. His statement was not a putdown of Mary but a declaration that everyone who acts on his word is privileged. Jesus offers us all a place in the inner circle where all claims to importance based on race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, profession, economic status, etc. should be dropped. We often see things as ‘either/or’ and Jesus’ statement is seen that way. It needs to be seen as ‘not only, but also’. It is always inclusive of traditional family and the ‘new’ family.


Aaron Rosen in What Would Jesus See: Ways of Looking at a Disorienting World asks, ‘what would Jesus see? Not ‘what did Jesus see? Rosen invites us to explore with him how Jesus saw, what he saw, and why it is important today. A practicing Jew, married to Episcopal priest, Rosen examines Jesus' eye for spectacle, his strategies for attentiveness, and his ways for discerning truth amid many false appearances. At the core of Jesus' ministry, Rosen finds a call to look at our world with radical empathy and see it with renewed vision focusing on those who need us most. ‘Few people in the history of the world have understood as clearly and intuitively as Jesus that the way we look at people is intimately entwined with how we treat them. The same gift to the same person can be an act of humble service by one person and a hollow gesture by another, with only the look in the donor’s eyes dividing the two…….. In Jesus’ eyes, even good optics are bad when that’s all they are. The pursuit of appearances—no matter how carefully scripted to follow the law—is viscerally revolting to Jesus.’ He continues, ‘Jesus stridently insists on the value of seeing so long as optics and ethics remain married to one another. In his Sermon on the Mount, he repeatedly emphasises the spiritual value of making good actions visible when it’s for the right reasons.’ It was because Jesus sees, that he does. Do we see genocide, poverty, homelessness, etc on the screen or before us, or look away? Do we see the beauty in people often invisible in church and society continue knowing they can shape a more relational, equal, just and inclusive world? In the face of name-calling and labeling, they believe God has the final say over who we are as God’s daughters and sons. Jesus’ ‘exorcisms’ serve not only individuals but also social institutions that create the ‘diseases’ he heals. What needs to be ‘exorcised’ are not just actions but whole systems of privilege throughout society. Social inequality versus preferential treatment for the powerful (such as  corporations, banks and other financial institutions) has been exposed.


Jesus points us towards retrieving an image of God who enters and shares the brokenness in our world. We commemorate this on Friday’s Feast of the Sacred Heart. We are reminded that relationships flourish in lives lived based on the human heart where everyone feels they belong. It enables us to look from the underside, the forgotten side, the unheard side. Rather climbing pyramids and being competitive we move toward cooperation forming more circles of solidarity, cooperation, interdependency. We can realise that despite our differences we are interconnected – sisters and brothers all! This turns our world upside down as we engage compassionately with this world through respect for otherness, equality, mutuality, interdependence, and care. 


Though security and peace are found in collaboration, mutual understanding, creative resource sharing, and acceptance of differences, as Hugh MacKay outlines in his The Kindness Revolution and The Way We Are, we promote divisive exclusivity, factionalism, stereotyping, blaming, self-protectiveness, and power games. To hear the challenging call to work for justice, we must begin by shifting our allegiance to God’s Reign so that justice, peace, and love can gain ground. We face many challenges each day in our relationships, in our homes and our neighbourhoods – to fidelity, mutual support, care, interest, learning understands and to listen to each other rather than separate ourselves from the ‘other.’ Paul tells says, ‘we do not lose heart’ (4:16) because God’s process of drawing life is often hidden and not obvious. We cannot use the usual signs of progress and measures of success used by corporate standards. Against these standards our service and ministry in justice, peacemaking, public advocacy can seem to be failures. We are reminded that the things that matter, the changes of the heart, come slowly and imperceptibly. It can seem that the world is going to hell or that we have run into a brick wall. Our work can be discouraging when there are obstacles, with brick walls and blatant opposition. Even redefining one’s identity — whether in a family or in a religious institution - is a provocative act. It almost always comes at a price because social change can involve, as we see in the gospel, questioning the values derived from family. Speaking out when one’s extended family is aligned with the opposition is difficult. Family opposition, even rejection, is painful when taking definitive stands for people and communities.

Jesus did not reject his family but accepted a new or broader family. We cannot determine Jesus’ family’s motives in the story or the religious officials - those we love to write off. What if Jesus’ family and the religious officials were not evil or ill-intentioned but dedicated to maintaining stability during a fraught time.  The family wanted domestic order and peace, and the religious officials wanted social and religious peace?  scribes desire order and peace in the religious sphere.  Don’t we all?  They are not out to thwart God; they just want to keep things respectable. If we picture the scene, outside the house stand the insiders — the family, the religious folk, the pious, the careful who have God pinned down.  Inside the house are the misfits, the rejects, the tax collectors, the prostitutes concerned only about live rather than dogma or piety.  They include the sick, the insane, the deviant, the hungry, the unorthodox and the unwashed – and it is Jesus, who says, ‘This. This is my family.’ Most of us know well to need to belong, to be safe and loved. We might yearn for someone who can hold all who we are, regardless of our circumstances, and still love us. This is what Jesus did for the crowds. He made them family. The house becomes a house of healing for all. What would the church look like if it were built upon Jesus’ model of community where nurturing and egalitarian relationships are prioritised? What if it were less corporate and more nurturing? What if our meetings were structured to create a community of brothers and sisters? If we actually lived into Jesus’ vision of family, how would the church of today be different? 



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