Peace and Justice embrace

  1. (see 9b) The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
    I will hear what God proclaims;
    the LORD–for he proclaims peace
    To his people, and to his faithful ones,
    and to those who put in him their hope.
    R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
    Kindness and truth shall meet;
    justice and peace shall kiss.
    Truth shall spring out of the earth,
    and justice shall look down from heaven.
    R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.
    The LORD himself will give his benefits;
    our land shall yield its increase.
    Justice shall walk before him,
    and salvation, along the way of his steps.
    R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.

(from Psalm 85)

Today’s responsorial psalm speaks of the importance of the dual values of peace and justice. Both justice and peace need to be sought together. God is a god of justice and of peace. We also need to find practical solutions to the world’s problems where the two are united, where Justice and Peace can hold hands.

On the one hand, peace without justice can lead to the continual oppression of those who are marginalized. When we look at all the violence against African-American men in our society, simply stating that we need to return to a state of peace is not enough, if that peace is not also accompanied by a call to justice. It’s good to have cameras on police, but it’s not enough if we don’t also address the underlying injustice of racist attitudes and economic injustice that disproportionately affects predominantly African-American communities. In my city, Boston, we had five deaths from shootings two nights ago. We have to ask for an end to gang violence but also ask what kinds of conditions lead to making gang life appealing in lieu of other possibilities. Stopping overt violence without working to end covert violence is peace without justice.

On the other hand, seeking justice without peace forgets that God is a lover and not only a lawmaker. In the Gospels, Jesus constantly shows us that the Law exists for human wellbeing. We don’t exist for the Law, which is a means. Jesus heals and gleans wheat with the disciples on the Sabbath, because the Sabbath exists for us and not vice-versa. Today also we can also use rules and regulations to defend ourselves against criticism, or to avoid difficult conversations with others. A friend once shared with me about working in a hospital where apologizing to patients for any serious medical misjudgment was forbidden lest a patient sue. She felt a deep frustration that in a hospital, whose very purpose was care of the human person, the primary value seemed to be defensiveness and insular self-guarding of the institution, rather than the good of the patient. Ironically, people who receive an apology are more likely to forgive than to sue, so my friend thought the policy was at odds with its very aim. Similarly, whenever we use laws and rules self-defensively, we are forgetting the value of peace.

Peace and justice together take more work than one of these values alone, because the answers to how to reconcile across differences in history or value are more ambiguous and less clear-cut than following the rules or the way that we have always done things. Yet Jesus’s entire life was about creating new possibilities for both. Communication, forgiveness, and a willingness to try new ways all foster peace along with justice.

God is a lover more than a lawmaker, and we’re also called to put the primacy of love at the center of all our actions—a love that does both peace and justice.