Isaiah 55:1-11; 1 John 5:1-9; Mark 1:7-11
Justice Matters! Where are the Christians today, when the demand for justice crusades our streets in the name of secularity and most Christians are hiding away in church builds? The day has come and the time is now to stand up for justice and to prove the meaning of your baptism, that sacrament of justice! The blood of Jesus Christ, his martyrdom, is your justice-contract with God. When you were baptized, you signed a contract with God to be like Christ, a justice example and seeker, a Christian.
Did it ever occur to you to ask why Jesus submitted himself for baptism, and he was baptized by a sinner, John-the-Baptist, and not by an angel? There are several reasons, but fundamentally, it was to start a revolution, both spiritual and political. A spiritual and social revolution because evil and sin had hijacked the goodness in God’s beautiful creation and creatures, and because human beings had adopted evil ways and treated one another evilly, thereby corrupting the human society. The revolution of Jesus Christ is meant to restore the goodness in creation and to bring out the best in human beings and society. That revolution was started by John-the-Baptist, Jesus takes that fight for justice over from John-the-Baptist to perfect it and leave us an example to imitate: this is the meaning of the Baptism-of-the-Lord.
The Baptism-of-the-Lord is the day of enlistment as a member of God’s revolutionary army. Baptism is that rite that makes every baptized person an agent of battle against spiritual and social injustices! To be a Christian is to be revolted by injustice! To stand up to injustice in one’s life and everywhere else is to live out one’s baptismal vows, vows to master and out wit the evil one in his wiles and fight to prevent his domination of others.
Our first reading today provides us with an instance of the manifestation of injustice, that necessitated the direct intervention of God himself. In the abundance of food and drink God put in place for his creatures, many go to bed hungry and thirsty. Our human society is so evil that the joy of some people—sadists—is the spiritual and material poverty of others. The king of the people of Israel took care of himself and his cronies, from common resources, while the majority of the people were left to wallow in poverty and penury. Most of the prophets sent to conscientise the kings of Israel about evil were summarily executed. Mass deportations, either to Assyria or Babylon, were the sole options to allow God to recalibrate and restore justice and the rule of God’s law. Even those exiles, how long did the restoration last? There appeared to be a fundamental flaw in the way the human person was wired (Original Sin), that a new wiring seemed imperative: baptism is this new wiring and capacity building to weather the corruption of the human will. It is no surprise then, that when institutional justice fails, just people demand for it on the streets and through legitimate revolts.
To be a Christian is to be revolted by injustice! To stand up to injustice in one’s life and everywhere else is to live out one’s baptismal vows, vows to master and out wit the evil one in his wiles and fight to prevent his domination of others.
Our first reading presents us with a God of justice, who offers food and drink free-of-charge, to those deprived of them! God always has alternative plans, in case human beings abuse their freedoms. When structures fail—the king and the Temple—the people rise from righteous indignation, inspired across-the-board, by the Spirit of God, to answer the call for the eradication of poverty. When God intervenes, he subverts the role and position of corrupt structures and brings about the respect of his will —social and spiritual justice. If God used Cyprus in the past, a talking horse (Numbers 22), he can use anyone he chooses even today to bring about justice. To everyone who is charitable, he/she is Godlike and understands justice as a principle and foundation of baptism. In fact, “judgment day” is based on the reward of social justice: I was hungry and thirsty, you gave me to eat and drink (Matt 25:31-46).
While we wait and fight for structural reforms and the architects of evil to change, God calls you and me, through our baptism, to feed the hungry and provide drink for the thirsty free-of-charge. God wants you and me to be the concrete realization of his call to humanity: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk” (Isaiah 55:1). Indeed, salvation is offered free-of-charge in the blood of Jesus Christ, the human person for whom Jesus Christ died must be sustained materially also, in addition to the spiritual salvation Jesus provides in his blood. As a matter of fact, human gratitude to God for the gift of life and salvation is the human engagement for justice and equality on this planet earth.
It may appear surprising that God asks people to buy and eat without money, in our first reading! The reason is simple: everything has been given free-of-charge by God, before economists and imperialists began to commodify and charge money on it. No wonder Jesus and the prophets resorted to miracles to bridge the gap of injustice! Why, for example, should Africa be the “Wretched of the Earth”, when she has the riches of the whole world? Injustice is the recipe for poverty, spiritual and material. Justice is the rise of righteousness, it is the dynamic response to virtuous life in conformity with baptismal vows and Christian ideals. When God intervenes to bring justice outside the structures he allows to be, it is because those structures need reforms, in order to remain relevant from the irrelevance they boxed themselves into.
Are there Christians in the world today? Many Christian marriages are nosediving because fidelity is wanting and Christians think that there is no problem. Does it surprise anyone that we legalize abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions and wars of all kinds, and we call those progress? Heads of families fail in their parental responsibilities because money is the new god we worship; we bully and harass people on social media and sell lies for money, yet we call ourselves Christians. The demonstrations on the streets of our respective nations are not led by the baptized, but by those frustrated by the collusion of structural powers with evil. In the global West, it is an uphill task to convince the younger generation about the relevance of church-attendance because they see more of structural evil than justice in the Church and her ministers.
The summary of justice is LOVE. This is the core of our second reading: “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments” (1 John 5:2). Only the just person and a crusader for justice knows the meaning of love. Out of love, Jesus died for the liberation and salvation of humanity. By the power of love, every unjust structure and action must be rooted out of the human life and society. Unlike the baptism of John, our baptism is that of Jesus Christ—empowerment for Justice. John confesses: “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). When you are full of the spirit of baptism, then you will hear, as Jesus heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Your actions for justice will speak up for you and your identity!
By Fr. Ayodele Ayeni, a Spiritan