The sun of justice and its healing rays


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With Advent drawing near, the mass readings for today focus on the end of times and the triumph of good over evil even when it seems that darkness is winning. Biblical scholars will emphasize that the authors of these readings were thinking of more immediate political forces and events than the Apocalypse per se as they wrote. For example, Jewish-Christian conflicts in the first century inform much of what is in today’s Gospel reading. However, a reason that we as Christians still continue to worship and to pray with these readings today is that there themes are broader than their original historical context. It’s still the case today that evil events surround us, and so we look to God for hope and redemption.

Consider the news lately, and the many reports of overtly racist, anti-black, anti-Muslim, and anti-GLBT attacks in the days since the election. (A good resource for staying informed is @ShaunKing on Twitter.) It’s more than disheartening: political rights, legal rights, human rights are on the line. The physical safety of others is at stake. Our identity as a nation as the “land of the free” is at stake.

Prayer in times like these is essential, because we must at some level in the midst of evil decide: do we think that the world is made good, in God’s image, and that God is always seeking creatively to redeem and to transform its evil with goodness, or not? Recalling places in the past when God acted to redeem and to restore humanity from its fallen state can give us hope that God and human beings can cooperate again for the greater good.

At the same time, prayer needs to lead to action. God gives all human beings free will, to cooperate or not to cooperate with God’s good, creative power. Whoever God in God’s mystery is, God is not a magician who waves a magic wand to take away social evils. The book of Job struggles with the mystery of evil, and we too still struggle with it today. Prayer can be effective, but also, where we can act, we should act for justice, and not only pray. When prayer becomes an excuse for personal passivity or for withdrawal from acting for the good of others, I think it can even be what St Ignatius describes as an angel of darkness disguised as an angel of light. It merely comforts us of our own goodness and adequacy.

The words from the book of Malachi especially strike me as important for the role of prayer in times such as these: “For those of you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” (Mal 3:20a). While we don’t like to talk much about fear of the Lord, fear in the sense of awe and respect for the goodness of God has a proper role in Christian living. We should seriously examine our own consciences to consider what we have done and what we have failed to do. If judgment day were to arrive tomorrow, what do we wish that we would have done to present to the Lord? What can we still do to promote justice and to promote love, from our little corner of the world? We all can do something, and together with God’s and one another’s assistance, we can do a great deal.

Malachi’s words of “the sun of justice with its healing rays” suggests two things to me: first, that God as the perfect Justice needs to heal the wounds that communities are experiencing in the aftermath of the election. Prayer in community as well as prayer in solitude can help to heal those wounds. In a way, healing from the Lord can be as simple as resting in the Lord’s light and letting the sun of his healing rays do its work. A second way these lines speak to me is that they say that justice in the world also heals. When we do something, however small, to restore justice in the face of injustice, we bring healing to the world, and so God acts through us. South High School in Colorado featured a wall where students shared messages of love and support (see image above, originally taken from Shaun King’s twitter feed). A woman who witnessed a man intimidating an Asian American woman at a gas station went over and hugged her as she wept until the man drove away. College teachers are meeting to reflect and to talk about how to restore respect and a sense of freedom to speak without fear in the classroom.  We can also take political actions to fight to protect civil rights, or lobby our representatives. The world will only be fully healed when it’s fully just. We can each ask ourselves, what can I do to further the causes of love and of justice?

*Image from South High School in Colorado