The Justice of the Kingdom
1. The “Sermon on the Mount” in the Matthew account (Mt5-7) shows the condition for entering the Kingdom. A conversion is called for and this has been signaled prior to the Sermon: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4/17). This conversion expresses itself in justice (or “righteousness”). For Jesus this justice is not just any kind of justice; it is justice of the Kingdom.
2. To understand this justice we try to see what it is not. There is another form of justice and it can be called justice nonetheless. But it still is not the justice of the Kingdom. What is that other form of justice? Jesus tells his listeners in these words, “…unless your justice surpasses that of scribes and Pharisees” (5/20). The justice of the Kingdom surpasses that other form of justice. What is the justice of scribes and Pharisees?
3. The scribes are the learned in Scriptures. They can give expert commentaries. The Pharisees are the “radical” believers. They want to respect strictly the Law; this Law being so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Scribes and Pharisees have thus attained a certain perfection in the observance of Jewish tradition. They have come to the point of seeing themselves able to evaluate others and say how others should be like them. Hence they impose rules and observances that the very weak cannot, however, follow too well. In fact the observance of the practices does not really open hearts to the possibility of charity. Submission to the observance of rules has become an external gesture forgetting the basic justice in front of God. It has been so external that it has become the mark of separating people from each other. There are those who can follow well the external practices and they are “better” than those who cannot. The social-cultural climate at the time of Jesus was marked by this distinction between the “better” ones and the “lesser” ones.
4. The justice of the scribes and Pharisees would then be this type of justice; a justice that separates. It is selective justice well applied exclusive to the “better” members of society at the cost of marginalizing others, the “lesser” ones.
5. To surpass this justice is to accept placing ourselves in the path of happiness; the path of the Beatitudes. We place ourselves in the hands of the Lord God and accept avoiding the separatist justice. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “neighbor”. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “my brother” or “my sister”. The justice of the Kingdom stretches the justice of scribes and Pharisees beyond its exclusive applicability. The other who is not of “my resemblance” is still a neighbor. The other who does not “resemble” me is still my brother, my sister.
6. The human heart is made to love. The human heart is called to love like the Father. The Father is not selective. He does not choose who to respect and who to accord dignity. Every single person is, for the eyes of God, a beloved. This is so different from the perspective of scribes and Pharisees. Justice thus needs love for it to be justice of the Kingdom. Justice needs to recognize the dignity of each and every single human person, be that person my resemblance or not. The justice of the Kingdom is opposed to “ghetto” justice. The justice of the Kingdom is defined by the demand of perfection that goes beyond the strict observance of the “letter” of the law. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5/48).
7. A conversion is called for. “Repent”, says Jesus. What does this word mean?
8. We tend to oppose in clear terms bad from good. And then we include opposing “bad people” from “good people”. This might even make us see persons in the light “eternity”…shall they go to “heaven” or to “hell”? Jesus has a different way of putting things. He is more nuanced. The scribes and Pharisees are very clear with their distinctions. They have their erudition and ritual purification to say who’s who in the ranks of the saved. When John the Baptist was ministering he was accused of doing sacrilege; he was accused of doing an illegitimate practice of baptism. Now Jesus notes that publicans and prostitutes he encounters, sinners in the eyes of the ritually pure, feel themselves forgiven by God. Jesus reproaches the ritually pure persons for not having recognized in the practice of John the Baptist the work of the living God.
9. Whenever we recognize and admit our ignorance we learn more; we deepen ourselves. The good teachers and formators are those who consider themselves as still on the path of learning. A humble sinner has chances of becoming available to the mercy of God. We are, indeed, sinners. We need the mercy of God to have access to his Kingdom. What is important is to recognize where we are; who we are truly. This is “to repent”. In the letter to the Philippians Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Ph2/3). Do not bloat your virtues. Rather, have the humility to recognize the virtues of others. See their dignity. In doing this we pursue unity, fraternity, mutual respect, solidarity. In doing this we reject division and paralysis of relationships. We reject the option to deny God’s plan. Why should we create division among ourselves when God’s plan is that we be one?
10. By following the humility of Christ we become servants to each other and servants to the Kingdom. We perceive in others, including those we think are “bad” and “sinners”, as having qualities that can inspire us and help us improve. To enter the Kingdom we certainly need to discover goodwill of God and the dignity and goodwill of others, no matter who they are. This is “to repent”.
11. To repent is to step out of being too full of ourselves and assuming reverence towards others. This is “conversion” too. We turn ourselves away from pretending to have completed ourselves fully. We repent, we go down, we humble ourselves and we open doors to the dignity of others. We practice the justice of the Kingdom.
Applied to Mission and Inter-religious dialogue
12. There is the tendency to think that mission and dialogue impose on others; they harm cultures. The gospel is perceived as interfering in the cultures of peoples. It is best to “do nothing”. Christians should “do nothing”. If ever they enter into dialogue they can compromise their faith. For the sake of dialogue Christians can drop the Gospel and drop Christ.
13. This is partly due to the notion of “conversion” as pulling people out of the tranquility of their cultures and religions and leading them to a very alienating life form within the Church. Because of this type of “conversion” it is wiser to leave people alone; let them stay in their own cultural and religious traditions. If ever their traditions need improvement and further integration, the Gospel is not necessary. Leave those people alone and let their resources take care of their own wounds. They do not need Christ and they do not need the message of Christ.
14. This type of thinking is attractive for those who have axes to grind in history. History, they say, proves the many blunders of Christianity and the Church.
15. But then a closer look at Biblical evidence will reveal that neither Christ nor his message wanted harm against cultures. The Good News of Jesus is for liberation.
16. What really gives harm to people and their traditions is the indifference and hatred and separatism that people make towards each other. The human heart is made for love and justice. When justice turns selective and exclusive, love comes in to remind people of the dignity of the rejected. When love is abused and turns promiscuous and blind, justice comes in to remind people of principles of respect and equality. This is what Jesus presents in his Sermon. This is what Jesus presents as justice of the Kingdom. It is a justice that is opposed to what separates people and to what makes social life unbearable. This is the message—a liberating message.
17. Conversion is to this justice. Conversion is not about “club membership”. It is not about pulling people out of their cultural roots and forcing them into something alienating. Conversion is precisely this repenting against egoism, self-centeredness, ghetto centered practices.
18. Now there are people who have seen the glory of Christ and have seen the enormous beauty of his message. These people have been assembled to share that experience. These people have formed a community called the Church. The Church is a community of persons touched by Christ. The Church is a community of persons doing their best to observe this justice of the Kingdom. The Church is so convinced of the validity of this justice; she wants to share and promote this to other cultures. What’s wrong with that?
19. To opt for “doing nothing” is marked by ghetto thinking; it is to tell Christians to refuse sharing the message of Christ, to refuse sharing the justice of the Kingdom. It is to tell Christians to lock themselves up and avoid provoking other people. It is to tell Christians to throw Jesus and his message out of the window every time dialogue occurs; and they are to do this for the sake of dialogue. This is ghetto thinking.