What a week we’ve had – so much difficult news with difficult questions for us… The Jussie Smollett case in Chicago, where an actor apparently staged his own beat down. The news that the Labor Secretary, Alex Acosta, mishandled a sex trafficking case when he was a prosecutor in Miami. The Roman Catholic Church meeting to discuss sexual abuse by their clerics. The tragic accident on 690 involving Coach Boeheim. I’m sure there was some good news this week, but it mostly just hurt my heart.
The question I have had for most of this last week, as I listened to the news reports, is: What would justice look like in this situation?
That question – what would justice look like – was rolling around in my head as I thought about our lessons for today. Joseph meeting his brothers and revealing his identity and Jesus continuing his ‘sermon on the plain’ and telling us to forgive, to pray for those who abuse us, to love our enemies. Really Jesus?
Doesn’t he realize that rogues and rascals will seize on these words and tell us that real Christians would forgive and forget and allow the abuse to stand? That real Christians should not hold the rogues and rascals accountable because we aren’t supposed to judge? That we should do good to those who stand with their boots on our necks because that’s what Jesus said to do? Can we imagine that the stories we’ve heard this week will all turn out the way that Joseph’s did, that his brother’s selling of Joseph as a slave will turn out to be their salvation many years down the road and that the ending will bring tears of joy?
Bad things happen to each of us. We’ve all experienced bad luck, bad timing, lost causes. We’ve also experienced those moments when other people have caused us harm – sometimes unintentionally and sometimes with intent. How do we respond? What does justice look like for us?
I would be completely at a loss over Jesus’ words in our passage for today if I didn’t know the rest of the story, the other words and actions from Jesus. It’s true that Jesus doesn’t resist when they come for him in the garden – he puts into action the words he preaches in today’s sermon. And yet… He really lives into the statement that we are to treat others the way we would like to be treated.
So Jesus takes the side of the poor and the hungry, the sorrowful and all those folks on the margins. In the beginning of his sermon he says that those folks will be blessed and have their needs met. He condemns the religious authorities for their hypocrisy and the heavy burdens they lay on people. Jesus calls them ‘whitewashed tombs’ in the gospel of Matthew, saying that on the outside they look beautiful, but inside ‘they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.’ He has compassion on the crowds who follow and those brought to him with illnesses and spends his time feeding and healing.
Another way of describing the life of Jesus is to say that he lives out the meaning of love. He has overwhelming compassion for those who have need and righteous condemnation for the powerful that harm the weak.
Jesus asks us to live our lives with love – putting ourselves into the shoes of the other and responding accordingly. ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’
What would justice look like? For those with power who abuse – Jesus condemns and so should we. We should work to prevent those with power from continuing their abuse. And at the same time, we must find compassion for the abused and the abuser. We hold accountable AND we love.
We have to figure out what it means to live out love in each situation we encounter. We have to figure out how to love and hold accountable the rogues and rascals who use and abuse. We have to figure out how to forgive and love those who harm unintentionally. We have to figure out how to love ourselves when we fail to live up to our own standards and how to make our actions right with those we have harmed. Compassion and accountability. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Live out God’s love. There are no easy answers here. The questions are difficult and the answers more so. We cannot live out love on our own – we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strength. We have to be deeply rooted in God’s love for us so that we can show that same love to the world around us.
O Lord, send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which we cannot live as true disciples. Amen.