Justice: Best administered when a society is just
Only a society that has a sense of justice ingrained in it can give birth to individuals with a profound sense of justice. In other words, justice must become a cultural ethos.
By Joe Palathunkal
Universal papal intention: That those who administer justice may work with integrity, and that the injustice which prevails in the world may not have the last word.
Justice is an ever abiding concern of Pope Francis and his papacy’s indelible mark is a thirst for justice especially when it comes to those who are on the margins of the society, the victims of various evil forces and actors, whether it is political or social this unusual world leader from Argentina voices his concern. The July 2019 prayer intention, therefore, must be viewed from this perspective.
His first concern is the integrity of those who administer justice and these people must be taken in a broader sense, not merely those who administer judicial justice, but they include political, social and religious leadership. It is the integrity of these people that will decide the quality of justice delivered.
The responsibility for this integrity should not be fixed only on the individual actors who are administering the justice in various contexts but it must be shared by the whole society. Only a society that has a sense of justice ingrained in it can give birth to individuals with a profound sense of justice. In other words, justice must become a cultural ethos.
This is what we need to look into in the context of India and many other Asian societies. Basically Indian society is feudalistic in nature and therefore the etymological sense of justice as righteousness and equity do not square well with such a social atmosphere where one who is in power is not at all concerned about just treatment but with giving some concessions and privileges. That is what the kings and feudal lords did down the centuries. India has not got out of this mind-set though it is called a democracy.
With casteism being the part and parcel of the society neither righteousness nor equity is possible in such a society. In caste system there is no sense of equality at all because inequality is the underlining philosophy. Such graded societies are very common in Asia and Africa, and it is here the justice suffers, and fair play is almost impossible in such a social set up.
Many societies in the developing nations are indeed graded and in hierarchical graded society equality is a problem in any way but when societies totally discard a sense of equality and human rights, justice becomes a casualty. It is here injustice becomes the last word.
When economic injustice and social injustice becomes a combined force, there it is very difficult to get people with integrity to deliver justice. The cows of Bashan that Amos cries out control the justice delivery system and there human beings turn out into mere hogs in the wheel and mutual human relationship takes a beating
In fact Biblical justice means right relationship with God, with one another and with nature and in such a relationship justice becomes rooted in love. That is why Hosea (12: 6) says: “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” True justice prevails only when the society becomes a God waiting one, ever eager to maintain an intimate relationship with God and through him to be connected with one another in love. Justice based on love is the justice in the vision of Jesus who saw anything that is not based on love as unworthy of the kingdom of God. That is why Jesus said (Mathew 5. 20): “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In the Bible righteousness is another word for justice and Jesus was well aware of the justice the Scribes and Pharisees had and it was pedantically legalistic without any love or mercy and Jesus rejected such a justice altogether.
Today what we see all over the world in several contexts is this Pharisaic justice which has no human face and that is why Pope Francis has given this prayer intention so that truly Christian justice may prevail against the Pharisaic one. And this Christian justice is very much evident in the writings of the Fathers of the Church whether they are Ambrose or Augustine. Those who support the horrible injustice committed by the state or government in the name of law, see this pithy question from Saint Augustine of Hippo: “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?”
The Church Fathers of the earliest centuries were so categorical about justice to the poor that some pious Christians would never admit that they had said or written so. Pope Francis was well aware of the piety that refuses justice when he said: “If I repeated some passages from the homilies of the Church Fathers, in the second or third century, about how we must treat the poor, some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily.”
Biblical call to justice opens our mind and hearts to all forms of injustice camouflaged as piety, or a little alms giving for compensating big injustice and other forms of so called good works and good intentions. They may not pay their workers just wages but they will donate huge amounts to the building of churches or temples as if it is a licence to further their injustice. Aren’t the following words of Pope Francis a warning to such people?
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system.”
If injustice should not have the last word, then all of us need to develop a sense of justice as individuals and societies. If Biblical justice has to be the ruler of the world, then all of us must strive to usher in a day as great Indian Catholic theologian Samuel Rayan said, when Lazarus and the rich man would sit at the same table and eat the same food and for that we need definitely a just society. And that is the crux of Pope Francis’s universal prayer intention for this month of July 2019.