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THE INTEGRITY OF THE FAITH-JUSTICE VISION
George Keerankeri SJ

 


The Biblical Basis of the Faith-Justice Vision

The biblical basis of the faith-justice vision, spirituality and action has been amply discussed and established as firm and incontrovertible. Both the Old and the New Testaments provide abundant data that support and reinforce it in no uncertain terms. Not only does the book of Exodus furnish us with a fundamental paradigm for it, but much of the prophetic literature consistently emphasises it as the central demand God requires his covenant people to fulfil, and the ignoring of which is to invite severe divine judgment. Jesus’ own preferential option for the marginalised, clearly shown in his close association and table fellowship with tax-collectors and “sinners”, the ones despised and rejected by the religious elite of his society, carries forward this basic stance. It also finds its realization in Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom with its blessing to the poor (Lk 6,20) and his humble service to the suffering and the disadvantaged of all hues and varieties that illustrates it.

Jesus’ commitment to the faith-justice vision took also a more conflictual shape with his prophetic denunciation of corrupt and misguided religious authority with its legalism and externalism that betrayed the basic demand for mercy (Mt 9,13; 12,7 = Hos 6,6). His ministry of the Kingdom of God in this perspective also led him to his death, manipulated by the powers-that-be to snuff out his prophetic voice that spoke out in favour of God’s poor. All these and more have rightly and eloquently been pointed out, in similar or related terms, not only in Liberation Theology but also in much of contemporary reflection on the issue in the Society of Jesus.

While all these are basic motifs supporting the faith justice-vision in the Bible, perhaps needing no particular restatement, I shall here briefly dwell on a related issue that, to my mind, is often not fully integrated in some of the discourse on this question. This has to do with the necessary connection between Jesus’ commitment to this vision in his ministry and the death that he suffered for it. As the latter is the price Jesus paid for his mission and the high point of that mission, a coherent integration of the latter with the former is of great importance if we are to see the integrity of this vision, both theologically and practically. Besides, it is also fitting to reflect on this point in the current liturgical context of the Pascal Season.

The Integrity of the Faith-Justice Vision in Luke

It is widely acknowledged that among the gospels it is Luke’s gospel that presents Jesus, his ministry and death-resurrection most consistently along liberational lines. Justifiably, it is also Luke’s gospel that is employed most in the faith-justice discourse. In this connection, mention is often made of the famous inauguration of Jesus’ ministry in the synagogue assembly of his native Nazareth where, invited to read for the Sabbath assembly, he chances upon the mission statement of Trito-Isaiah (Is 61, 1-3). He solemnly reads this and then goes on to identify his impending mission in terms of the liberative vision embodied in this text (Lk 4, 21). By thus initiating his public ministry the Lukan Jesus, it is rightly claimed, clearly projects his ministry as one of liberation of the poor, the marginalised, and the oppressed. The subsequent unfolding of Jesus’ ministry with its special focus on the poor and the oppressed also justifies, in large measure, this understanding of the gospel.

It is, however, to be noted that the passage in question (Lk 4,16-30) does not end with this solemn identification of Jesus’ unfolding ministry in liberative terms (4,16-22a). There is a second part to this passage namely, 4, 22b-30, which forms an integral part of this unit. At v22b the mood of the people suddenly changes and their superficial understanding of Jesus as Joseph’s son, whom they know only too well, becomes a stumbling block to their acceptance of him. Jesus knows that, based on this, they will cynically demand that he repeat the same signs they have heard he worked at Capernaum. In the context of their superficiality and unbelief, he pointedly alludes to the ministries of the great OT prophets, Elijah and Elisha, who exercised a ministry to the Gentiles because of unbelief and rejection by Israel, a reference meant to imply the same course for his own mission in the face of the same attitudes by contemporary Israel. Furious at this critical reference, the people of Nazareth turn violent and nearly do away with Jesus although he escapes this bid on his life (Lk 4, 28-30).

While the sudden change of mood on the part of the people of Nazareth in this passage is puzzling, especially coming immediately after their high estimation of Jesus (cf. 4,22a), this unit in its entirety is, for Luke, the programmatic summary of the whole gospel. What takes place at the micro-level of this unit is played out in full at the macro-level of the total gospel narrative. Thus, both the liberative vision of the Nazareth sermon and the tragic rejection of Jesus by his townspeople are programmatic in relation to the wider gospel account. Just as the liberative vision of the sermon foreshadows Jesus’ unfolding ministry, the rejection of Jesus in his native Nazareth foreshadows his future rejection by Israel, his people, in his Passion and death. This means that the programmatic summary, and hence also the whole gospel, presents Jesus, the Son of God, as God’s end-time liberator prophet who exercises a mission of God’s liberation in Israel and is tragically rejected. However, in the gospel, this bitter rejection is no accident but a divine necessity that coheres in the realization of the plan of God for liberation, as the risen Jesus clarifies to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, shattered by the tragedy of Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Lk 24, 25-26).

A Not-uncommon Deficient Reading of Luke’s Vision

Although in Luke’s vision the two parts of this pericope are well-integrated and together form the programmatic summary of the liberative mission of Jesus, the passage is often mutilated, both in liturgical usage and in liberation apologetics. Invariably, the use of this passage finishes with 4, 16-22a and the second part 4, 22b-30 is discarded. It seems to me that this is more than an instance of accidental mutilation of a scripture passage. Perhaps it is illustrative of our resistance to integrate the Passion destiny of Jesus into our faith-justice vision and praxis as its integral part, indeed, as its crowning climax. Whatever be its motivation, this division and the consequent one-sided reading of this passage is surely unhealthy and involves a distortion. It can even give rise to an ideologisation and sloganeering of our mission which underplay the centrality of the cross in the faith-justice mission. At any rate, this division is something to be remedied in the interest of the integrity of the faith-justice vision, spirituality and praxis. Jesus both exercised a ministry of liberation in courageous proclamation, humble service and prophetic denunciation. His Passion destiny and his death are the price he paid for this mission as well as the final and crowning act of this ministry. We thus miss something vital to the faith-justice mission if we de-emphasize the second part of this passage. As Luke would have it, to commit oneself to the work of liberation, to the faith-justice ministry, is both, to participate in Jesus’ ministry of liberation and to share in his Passion destiny as well as experience our vindication by God of them.

Models of true Integration

It is certainly not my intention to suggest that the faith-justice engagement has been lacking in heroes of this integration. We have an imposing line of such models. The outstanding examples of the modern martyrs of this ministry are there for all to see. In this connection we may respectfully remember- Archbishop Romero, the El Salvadorian martyrs, and several others; and in our context in India, our own fellow-Jesuit Fr. A.T.Thomas and Sr. Rani Maria, a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation. These are people who have combined the two aspects of this vision: the exercise of the faith-justice vision in their apostolate and the paying of the price for their commitment with their lives in a final act of service, after Jesus’ own example. They have exercised a truly liberative mission and drunk deep of the cup of Jesus, his Passion and death in the service of the marginalised, and also experienced its vindication by God. Clearly, these, and surely many others like them who are less well-known, are true embodiments of this integral faith-justice vision, spirituality and action. What I wish to underline is simply the consistent emphasis, both in theory and practice, of the very same integrity of the faith-justice vision that these models actually represent.

The Role of the Passion in the Faith-Justice Mission

This share in the Passion of Jesus as a necessary and inevitable part of the faith-justice mission has more than one scope. For Jesus, his Passion was his sharing of and identification with the most abject, detestable and humiliating suffering in the human condition. By accepting death through crucifixion Jesus thus shared the worst lot of the victims of human hatred and cruelty.

But he thereby not only participated in their lot but also brought a ray of hope into this abyss of darkness. By his surrender to the unalterable will of God in total trust even in the face of the experience of God-forsakenness, Jesus transformed this bitter negativity into a source of life. Through the patience, obedience and love that embodied his acceptance of it, he made it a life-giving reality. Jesus thus also opened up a new perspective on suffering and human tragedy when accepted in patience, obedience and trustful love of God and people. He thereby transformed the human condition in its bitterest and most negative into a source of liberation and life.

Our conscious sharing of Jesus’ Passion entailed in the faith-justice mission is, when integrated, a participation in this achievement of Jesus. Not only is it an act of identification with those who suffer oppression for whom we struggle, but it is also an imitation of the patience, trust, obedience, and surrender of Jesus to God (his love of God) and his love of people. Through this we also analogically transform the negativity we face into a source of life and of integral liberation. It thus becomes a share in the death of Jesus “for us and for our salvation”, a share in the vicarious nature of his suffering in the interest of total human liberation.

Conclusion

It seems to me that a clear and conscious emphasis on our share in the Passion involved in the faith-justice mission will enrich this God-given mission of the Society in our contemporary world. In the measure in which we share in the cup of Jesus as part of this mission, we shall also experience God’s vindication of our mission in small and big ways. It will also convince the world of its inherent truth.

George Keerankeri SJ

 

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