How do you define justice?
In much of Scripture, many seem to have a bias toward those who live blessed lives: they are good and righteous, and therefore they are rewarded in this life, whereas the poor and oppressed often seem to have no recourse or rights. But in this Sunday’s reading from the Book of Sirach, this truism is reversed: the Lord is a God of justice. In other words, God is just to and cares for all; all people have God’s full care and concern, and therefore access to justice. Moreover, God’s justice can be defined as that which is life-giving: God gives everyone life, and the wherewithal to live. If, then, we too live with the desire to see that all have life, and if we pray from a position of justice, our prayers will be heard, our petitions will reach the heavens. This sentiment is echoed in the refrain of this week’s Psalm: The Lord hears the cry of the poor. Prayer is one route to justice.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we hear two very different prayers. One, from a Pharisee, uses his prayer to set himself apart from other: I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity. And this is his biggest program: the Pharisee is caught up in his own vision of his identity, convinced of his own righteousness. He therefore cannot see as God sees, or stand in right relationship to God. The tax collector, on the other hand, prays humbly: O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Unjust in his daily dealings with others, the tax collector lays his heart open before God, asking to be readmitted to right relationship with his Creator. It may be news to the Pharisee, but God’s justice is readily available to this tax collector as well.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.