Last Updated 03 Jan 2023

A Discussion on Social Justice Represented in the Actions of the Religious Leaders Such as Pope Frances or Jesus

Category Social Justice
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We still dwell on the problems of our past, not because we are incompetent or too hard headed to move on, but because those problems have never been solved. The inability to move on is represented in the scripture of the Old Testament as a never-ending storyline. That is, when the collection of writings in the Old Testaments concludes, the plot of the story does not end; rather, it is continued by the New Testament writings. The social injustices that were present during the return from the Babylonian Exile are festering in current society. World leaders like Pope Francis in his address to the United Nations criticize these social injustices.

The systematic violence against the poor is seen through leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah who meant well, but instead of serving the word of God, become servants for it. In modern society we still participate in social injustices in the same manner ancient leaders did, we become servants to the system instead of letting it set us free. In regards to their respective time periods, leaders like Jesus Christ and Pope Francis, act as disciples of God to remind us of the true meaning of using scripture as guidance in relevant and applicable contexts.

After about a generation in exile King Cyrus of Persia frees the Israelites In 539 B.C.E. He defeats the Babylonian empire and grants all exiles their freedom. The new task of the people of God is to rebuild what is left of their community in accordance to mosaic laws. A scribe Name Ezra, a highly trained scribed in the law of Torah, is tasked to overlook the return to Israel. A problem arises, the persistent ideology to be like God's original people whom the covenant was established with. This is problematic in the sense that it's a new time period, and in the current situation, it's neither probable nor logical to be an exact replica of God's original people.

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As part of this process, Ezra's main goals were to organize the legal system in accordance to mosaic law, instruct the people in this law, and to enforce it. In order to purify the current Jewish community, Ezra requires all men to divorce to their wives if they are not of pure Jewish decent. While with the right intentions to restore the Jewish people's relationship with God, he is participating in systematic violence by breaking up marriages bonded in the eyes of God. Not to mention the trauma children had to experience as their family was broken up. What's left of the women, especially during this conservative time period where they are fully dependent on men?

On the contrary to a pure Jewish state, Isaiah of the return states that a pure Jewish community is not one of pure bloodline, but one where " all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain" (Isaiah 56.6-7). The Israelites are no longer exclusively the people of God. The law of God goes beyond borders and takes a worldview, as any human who lives by the word of God is a person of God. The language Isaiah uses is rather straight forward, even though his writing is poetic, his message is clear.

So why do leaders like Ezra who are very devoted to God not follow what is stated in scripture? Contemporary leaders like Pope Francis show us how the relationship between scripture and power are part of the problem, "In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself" (Francis). It's a circular relationship where power comes from law and scripture, and can only be limited by the law itself, but the law is the system that gives power, and in reality no solution to the problem.

The preamble of the United Nations see's the relationship of using the law in order to create violence. Many of the writings in the Old Testament, as it has been witnessed through history, instead of instilling peace have promoted and dignified the use of oppression.

As a result, the writers of the UN's charter know that even though they mean well, the most odious of humans can use a powerful document to their individual benefit. It is no surprise as a result that they concluded the declaration with; " nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as simplifying for any State, group or reason any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein: (UN article 30). Simplified, this declaration does not give anyone the permission to go and engage in war with the excuse that from war they will bring about peace. The Declaration is not even a Catholic document, but yet it reflects a principle of the Old Testament, that violence will only bring about more violence.

The charter of the UN and scripture in the Old Testament are meant to bring peace but, "on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not" (Francis). It's almost as if Pope Frances had written article 30 in the UN's declaration himself. The miss use of law is clearly seen in our modern day systems where education is only for those who can afford it. Where ones ability to learn is not due to hard work, but by prior preparation and investment in students, where the legal system is not about justice but about who can present a better argument, where democracy is no longer democracy because one percent of the population systematically and economically control the other 99 percent. What we call "following protocol" or following the given laws without straying from them in order to maintain the original intent of the founders, is exactly what Pope Francis and the UN warn us about.

Similarly, during the efforts to return to the original covenant with God, leaders used violence in order to accomplish a pure Israelite state. Systems of extreme devotion include the day of the Sabbath and fasting, which many Jews proclaimed to be the word of God, but their real intentions don't go unnoticed as Isaiah writes; "why do we fast but [...] do not see, why humble ourselves, but [...] not notice, Look you serve your own interest on your fast day" (Isaiah 58:3-4). A true day of fasting is when we are supposed to " let loose the bond of injustice, [...] to let the oppressed go free"(Isaiah 58:6).

Just like Pope Francis states, if the Sabbath day was done "without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained" (Francis). However, that is not the case today or in ancient times. We use the excuse of equality and freedom in order to be free to get away with anything, and equality as a means to keep everyone on the same level, while we rise. In the same manner, the Israelites used the Sabbath not for a day to do justice, but a day for their own interest.

Such oppression leads to "economic and social exclusion [and therefore] a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights" (Francis). With so much exclusion comes the creation and expression of emotions through literature in the forms of poetry, music, or theater. Within the Old Testament, an array of emotions is expressed in the forms of Psalms. This style of literature however, is not meant to be doctrinal, but a place in the Old Testament where human emotions can be vented. John R. Donahue, author of Seek Justice that you May live, divides The Psalms among four thoughts in which "things are not right in the present arrangement, they need not stay this way and can be changed, the speaker will not accept them in this way. For the present arrangement is intolerable and 4) it is Gods obligation to change things" (Donahue 111).

Speakers in recent history have expressed their thoughts similar to the Psalms. Intellectuals like Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis, even singers like Bob Marley, expressed their emotions through speeches and music to reflect the consequences the current system had on their emotions. In respect to music, the musician escapes this systematic hell through music, where such violence does not exist.

Such division leads the poor to write feelings like; "my eyes waste away because of grief' they grow weak because of all my foes" (Psalm 6:7). However among this box of Pandora, hope still remains amongst evil qualities of human nature (Francis). “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff- they conform me" (Psalms 23:4). The Lord counteracts the devils staff with a rod and a staff to protect his people. Hope remains in the form of having God on ours side, and knowing that we are safe as long as we put our faith in him.

But even among such forms of truth, we make the excuse that we have to "follow protocol" and "we [...] rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals" (Francis). How obvious is the inefficiency of scripture and law if the sole purpose is only to avoid it, and only use it to our self-improvement? Nations hold meetings but they are useless as the outcomes are nothing more than theories that are never applied. Pope Francis reminds out that "we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights" (Francis). Peoples lives are at steak, and by not acting towards justice, we are just pro-longing the suffering by avoiding the law one instilled.

Such lethargic attitude towards doing justice is a cycle of past and current systems when we "humble ourselves, but[...] do not notice" (Isaiah 58:3). Like Pope Francis relates, we may humble ourselves and create conferences and proposals, yet we do not notice the actual suffering people are enduring. We become engulfed in the political system, and instead of using it to serves us, we serve it. It is not until we "set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good," when social justice will be accomplished (Francis). Put in simple terms, having meetings is not beneficial in any way if no positive action is taken.

The storyline continues to the writings of the New Testament, and the same problems are still present, but hope has not escaped Pandora's box.

The concept of hope is present through scripture in Isaiah and in the Psalms. "The literature and worldview thrives among people suffering persecution or alienation from their culture and foster trust in a god who will reverse the injustice they suffer" (Donahue 135). But who will be the one who instills reform in accordance to the word of God, that is in doing what is best for humanity? The arrival of king is expected to bring reform to the current system in the form of someone like David. Instead, Jesus Christ is the one who continues the story line, but in a way very contradictory to what anyone expects. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view" (2 Corinthians:16). This is necessary, as it has been shown through history, anything interpreted by the human mind, is full of imperfections. The reform will come from a scared being like God.

Jesus did not come from the heavens to be King and accomplish change, but rather to proclaim God's word, which clearly negates the use of war. This applies to everyone, including the oppressed, who in the Psalms wish that all their "enemies [...] be ashamed an struck with terror" (Psalm 6:10). However, this is simply acting the same way as the oppressor. As a result Donahue states that "today, no matter how poor people might be, if they have a sense of respect and dignity and a sense of God's presence they need not envy nor emulate the pretension of the rich" (Donahue 109). Since the Psalms are only a place where emotions "expressed the deepest of human feelings and emotions," they should not be taken literally or interpreted in a way that Jesus's mission is to punish the oppressor (Bratcher). God has a preferential option for the poor, but does not side with those who utilize violence.

Jesus rather is sent by God to die for our sins and give humanity a fresh start and an opportunity to repent for our sins. Actually, this is incorrect as Pope Francis referred to anyone who died in the pursuit of justice as having the goal of "peace and reconciliation among peoples" (Francis). Reconciliation is true social justice that respects human dignity. As stated by the UN declaration and Pope Francis, every human being "has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creature" (Francis). This is perfectly in conjunction with the original mission for humans assigned by God in the beginning of creation, to care for God's creation and to care for each other as tenants in God's house.

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