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(Part 180)


January 9, 2020

Today’s readings:
1 John 4:19-5:4
Psalm 72:1-2,14-15,17
Luke 4:14-22

In the Church today there is the tension between spiritual renewal and social justice. There should be no dichotomy between the two, as both are part and parcel of Christian life and work. But unfortunately there is. There are those who work at spiritual renewal but hardly have any concern about the poor. On the other hand, there are those who are so-called social justice warriors but who give in to the culture of death in pursuing their goals.

Just look at the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, to which our Church has subscribed to. The ultimate goal is a world without poverty. In pursuing this goal, there are the thrusts, among others, of zero hunger, gender equality, clean energy, and climate action. These would seem to be good, but on closer scrutiny, these bring in the culture of death. To achieve the goal, there is the promotion of such evils as LGBT and abortion. Blaming much of poverty and climate change on overpopulation, it looks to drastically limiting the population of the world. That necessitates the whole gamut of the culture of death.

What is authentic Christian teaching?

One, we look not only to God but also to our neighbor. We are to love them both. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; …. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 Jn 4:20a,21). We are all children of God. So we must be concerned about our brothers, especially the least of our brethren.

Two, we look to justice in the world. Justice is giving to everyone what is his due. To the poor is due a equitable share of the world’s goods. But the goods of the world are under the control of the rich and powerful. So Solomon prays that the king “may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment” (Ps 72:2b).

Thus social justice, basically work with the poor, is at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus himself took on the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.” (Lk 4:18a). God has a preferential option for the poor. So should we as Church.

Now what is glad tidings? It is the gospel. It is the proclamation of salvation in Jesus. It is announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Now if the Kingdom of God is firmly established in the world, then there will be social justice. The poor would not be deprived but would properly be cared for.

But with much of social work today, here is the problem: there is work with the poor, but Jesus and the Kingdom of God have been left out. There is a drive for social justice but not for spiritual renewal. The focus is on man and not on God. There is feeding of the body but not of the soul. With acceptance of the culture of death in social development programs, work with the poor has become work against Christian morality and faith.

Now Jesus was sent “to proclaim liberty to captives …. and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk 4:18b,19). He was called to proclaim and of course to do the actual work of “recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Lk 4:18c). The two go together. The proclamation and the actual work. The good news is not just material or physical well-being, but spiritual well-being. The poor are fed not just with physical food but spiritual food.

Later, when messengers of John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was the Messiah, he said to them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Lk 7:22). If we follow the logical flow of contrasts that happen (blind see, lame walk, etc.), then Jesus should have said “the poor become rich.” But no. The poor have the gospel preached to them. This is the gospel of the Kingdom.

So social justice without spiritual renewal is not what God intends. Rather, there is spiritual renewal, and social justice will naturally flow out of that.

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