Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: In a passage that describes Jesus' teaching about our response to injustice and requests for loans, we must remember that Jesus is describing His own life.

Monday of 11th Week in Course

18 June 2012

Verbum Domini

The Word of God is not some naive program to comfort humans in their preconceptions. Both Old Testament and Gospel passages today rub our Christian noses in the reality of evil, and challenge us to take up the hardest labors connected to the Law of Christ. First, we see this little, unconnected, politically inept fellow Naboth, who happened to have a vineyard coveted by the big, connected, streetwise politician, the King of Israel. The king wanted Naboth’s property, and the latter appealed to the Law of Israel that did not permit one’s land to be alienated from the family by force. So the king sulked until his foreign wife, Jezebel, put together a plot not only to steal the land, but to murder the landowner. Now, granted, in the end the bad guys were punished, but Naboth was still dead and the land was still stolen. So where is the God of Justice, we might ask, when tyrants rule, violate Constitutions and laws, and trample on fundamental human rights?

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us the answer. The God of Justice is right here, suffering injustice right next to the poor and oppressed. The words of Jesus are a description of the actions of Jesus. He speaks of how to respond to four specific cases of injustice: 1) physical violence, which is not to be resisted, 2) legal contention, or lawsuits, which is not to be contested, even to the point of being left naked to the elements, as Jesus was left on the cross, 3) forced labor, which Jesus and Joseph probably suffered under the yoke of Rome, 4) requests for loans, which are not to be turned down, and, of course, interest is not to be expected.

These days, this Gospel challenge may be the hardest to understand and practice, particularly for those of us whose net worth is above average. The entire Western financial system is based on the earning of interest, although I note that those of us who have money in mutual funds have these days attained the biblical state of perfection called 0% rate of return. So if a brother or sister is in need of a loan, it is really unjust to demand interest on that loan.

Our whole legal system is based on contending legal claims; in fact, some of the folks here are attorneys. So are we supposed to roll over and not answer a lawsuit? What about an unjust lawsuit? What about a lawsuit against the Church herself? I frankly have no answer to these practical questions, except to say that we cannot ignore the words of Jesus.

The Holy Father gives us some words that may help us reach toward a solution.

‘The word of God has bestowed upon us the divine life which transfigures the face of the earth, making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5). His word engages us not only as hearers of divine revelation, but also as its heralds. The one whom the Father has sent to do his will (cf. Jn 5:36-38; 6:38-40; 7:16-18) draws us to himself and makes us part of his life and mission. The Spirit of the Risen Lord empowers us to proclaim the word everywhere by the witness of our lives. This was experienced by the first Christian community, which saw the word spread through preaching and witness (cf. Acts 6:7). Here we can think in particular of the life of the Apostle Paul, a man completely caught up by the Lord (cf. Phil 3:12) – “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20) – and by his mission: “woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Paul knew well that what was revealed in Christ is really salvation for all peoples, liberation from the slavery of sin in order to enjoy the freedom of the children of God.’

In other words, we must, I believe, live our life trending away from the world’s system, values and economics and toward a Gospel attitude and way of living. When we have a choice, we can and must set our foot on the Jesus side of the decision line. A million million such decisions will move the world toward acceptance of Jesus’s way of life. But whether the world makes that movement or not, each of us must do so, by the grace of God.

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