Thursday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time
June 4, 2020
Saint Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
2nd Timothy 2:8-15
We are assembled here today to worship God and to pray for the repose of the soul of George Floyd, our brother by virtue of his being created in the image and likeness of God. We pray for the consolation of his family and friends. We are assembled here today to worship God and to pray for peace and the end of injustice and racial enmity and discord in our community. We are assembled here today to ask God for His mercy to bring about our conversion as individual persons and as a community from sins of injustice that result in chaos and evil. We pray for those who are entrusted with the responsibility of protecting us from injustice through the upholding of law.
The scribe who questions Jesus in the Gospel that we just proclaimed is asking the Lord to establish priorities among a list of laws for the sake of finding right order in his life that is to be lived among others. The type of question that the scribe asks is one that invites speculation, discourse, and argument because the setting of priorities involves the revealing of preferences and choices made according to those preferences. It is the type of question that can lead to the type of dispute about words that Saint Paul warns Saint Timothy about in our first reading today that “serves no useful purpose since it harms those who listen” instead of “imparting the word of truth without deviation.”
Jesus does just that when He responds to the scribe by uniting the first two commandments: the love of God and the love of neighbor, so that each cannot be separated from the other. This means that as a person, I cannot truly love God without loving my neighbor. My neighbor includes every human being created in the image and likeness of God. It also means that I cannot truly love my neighbor without loving God. So, I cannot truly love God, without following His commandments. I cannot truly love my neighbors without truly respecting them and treating them justly. The response of Christ also indicates that justice and love are inseparably united.
Because justice and love have been wed together by Jesus in His one command to love God and to love neighbor, we cannot have authentic love without laws that set forth clearly the specific obligations of how to love our neighbor. It is impossible for us to do this if we do not begin with the humble recognition that none of us are God and that God has designed us in creation to need Him and to need each other as brothers and sisters — with all of our diversity — but united through our being created in the image and likeness of God. If we do not recognize God as supreme and higher than ourselves, we soon replace Him in our lives with false gods and idols who mislead us and dominate us with raw power, instead of freeing us through the legitimate authority that belongs to God alone. They play on our passions and emotions, on our fear and anger, and we soon find ourselves forced to our knees before such false gods as rage, hatred, and indifference.
We are not children of these false gods. The one who makes that claim is a liar. As the children of the one true God, the God of all people, it is required of us to live by rightful authority for the sake of justice and love. We also have the obligation to hold those entrusted with this rightful authority to be accountable in accord with justice and love. The law is required for the just and loving treatment of my neighbor, especially my neighbor who is the weakest and most vulnerable. Those who possess the responsibility of authority for upholding laws have a great trust placed upon them, and when they betray that trust, they harm society as well as an individual human being created in the image and likeness of God. It is incumbent upon us to not be indifferent but to be accountable ourselves for justice and to hold those who have violated the trust to be accountable in law with such just remedies that include due process befitting human dignity.
When we see betrayals of this trust, fear and anger are inevitable. We can be tempted to react to the abuse of power and the betrayal of trust by tearing down legitimate authority and acting in lawlessness and violence. This is when we as a people of faith must make use of more than just fear and anger and make use of a system of justice, and more importantly turn to God for enlightenment and encouragement.
When I speak of a system of justice I am not simply referring to a system of laws and procedures that are the edicts of the powerful, but rather a system of justice that is established in a recognition and respect for human nature that provides for a morality that is both compassionate and binding. If we choose the path of reliance on fear and anger, we attack the authority of law that is necessary to protect the vulnerable and all our neighbors — the people who are part of the community to which we are given. If we choose the path of indifference, we undermine the authority of law that is intended to serve justice and not simply the status quo that too frequently assaults the vulnerable who should be safeguarded.
Pope Saint Paul VI famously said, “if you want peace, work for justice.” Today we hear the inverse, “no justice, no peace.” Justice and peace are everybody’s responsibility. Justice is not something that other people have to give me in exchange for my letting them live in peace. Justice and peace are interdependent, and each require law and accountable authority and the contribution of everyone — of every person and of every community. Without everybody’s contribution towards accountability in the truth, we might end up with law but not justice. There can be law without justice but there cannot be justice without law. There can be neither without our humble and honest recognition of the first place that justly belongs to God who has created and redeemed us and before Whom alone we approach on bended knee.
Justice is the need and responsibility of everyone. Peace is the need and responsibility of everyone. We can only achieve them if we work towards them together. We cannot achieve them without recognizing that justice and peace come from God and we need Him. We certainly cannot achieve them by engaging in a dispute of words that leads to violence and more suffering.
So, what shall we do? What shall we do as human beings? What shall we do as people who are capable of love and capable of loss? What shall we do as people who are capable of fear and anger and want to be capable of more than just their fear and anger? I would ask us to pray for three things: humility, humanity, and hope.
Let us pray for humility. Let us begin with the recognition that we are not God and that we depend on Him for His wisdom that is not irrational but supra-rational, beyond the limits of our human reason to acquire unaided by His grace and inspiration. In keeping with the greatest commandment of Christ, let us be aware that we have much to learn from our neighbor. Let us pray for humanity: to remember and insist that my neighbor is as human as I am, as much made in God’s image and likeness — no more and no less. Let us pray for hope. Let us choose to work together with God and neighbor to build a world worthy of God’s children who were made for heaven. If we do that, then we can tell the world about the Psalm we prayed today: “Good and upright is the Lord, thus, He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, He teaches the humble His way.”