‘Armed with the justice which is the power of God, let us prove ourselves with great patience’.
Daily Office, 31 March 2012.
In my last post I suggested that ‘How God chooses to do something is as authoritative for the follower of Christ as the fact of God being God and due our devotion and adoration’. In this short post my aim will be to review some of the principles that I see in the Incarnation of Jesus and use them as a mirror to reflect upon the Churches priorities in witnessing to the risen Christ.
Justice does not happen it is announced. The Apostle John stresses this point very clearly in his focus on John the Baptist in the first chapter of his gospel. Before Jesus arrival, comes the announcement.
He who comes after me, is ahead of me, because he came before me. (John i v15)
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “make straight the way of the Lord” as the prophet Isaiah said. (John i v23)
The point here is that in order for justice to arrive, the new reality, or landscape that will be created must be articulated first. I must be able to articulate the new reality, help people to see there is a new way, before addressing the problem. This is the essence of ‘the hope’ found in the gospel. The announcement of Jesus is not an intellectual reorganising of a worldview, nor is it primarily confessional (a mistake the western church repeatedly makes in my opinion), it is ethical, lifestyle, economic, moral, social, it is truly transformational, as John the Baptist demonstrated with his insistence on baptism. John painted a world of new possibilities and opened a door (water baptism) through which people could walk. This new world was not just a personal world, it was an entirely new way of being the ‘children of God’ (John i v12). It was not however the fulfillment, it was merely the announcement of the possibility.
In the same way the Archangel Gabriel and his announcement of the conception of Jesus within Mary, is the embodying of God’s intentional act of salvation through the backdoor. The ritualisation of this story, and the intentional marginalisation of St Mary by the Protestant church has robbed us of the radical impact of this moment. Heaven, through its ministering angels, announces the coming of the Son of Man through the body of a poor woman. This is another demonstration that the incarnation of Justice does not arrive in a limousine, a lawyers frock, or an act of Parliament. It arrives in the womb of a poor woman or using a twentieth century illustration on ‘the whites only’ seats on public transport in Alabama,
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke i v53).
Again it is not the fulfillment, but the opening up of the new landscape of possibilities into which we can enter. This cry of the poor is the voice that calls God to intervene.
The invocation of the spirit of justice in the voice of the prophets and angels, may be the announcement of fresh opportunities, yet this fresh possibility is always contested. A good friend of mine with a Oxford history degree constantly reminds me that all democracy is originally won through the bullet and the bomb, not the ballot box. In the case of Jesus, the Ikon of justice, this is equally true (not of course that Jesus is a believer in democracy). The Incarnation of Justice was contested, through the Royal authorities of the day and the military institutions that supported that monarchy. The Massacre of the Innocents and flight to Egypt as a refugee (Matthew ii v13-18) continues the incarnational identification with the poor. Jesus was a refugee, an immigrant, a persecuted child from a poor family, that to be clear would never have got visa status in the UK or USA. Additionally many hundreds, possibly thousands of children were slaughtered in the name of the state and the perpetuation of what I am sure Herod would have justified as ‘the defense of the realm or national security’.
Gods identification with the poor is not theoretical or theological. It is not even ethical or practical, it is truly incarnational. Jesus as the image of the invisible Just God was not just good news to the poor, he was the good of the poor, as he was one of them. This was not a voice that came to the poor from the outside to help them out with social action projects. Here was the God of creation that was birthed from within the poor themselves. This act of redemption was not only an act of mercy and liberation, it was also a an act of judgement on the powerful, the elite and the rich. God did not choose them as the originating community through which salvation would flow to all of creation. I often reflect on this fact when I witness the misogynistic power games that rich mega church leaders and denominational institution’s play and the way they use their wealth, their bums on seats and platform success to convince the masses that Gods blessing is on them. Blessing or seduction, that is the question? Their model of Church is certainly not consistent with the approach that God takes to salvation in the witness of Jesus.
Justice is anticipated through new possibilities articulated from the prophetic margins of our society. This seems to be the way that God intentionally worked out his grand entrance. I would suggest the body of Christ should do likewise.