Commentary on the Gospel of
As we come to the end of the liturgical year, these end-times readings invite me sit with the questions: What does God’s justice look like? What does God’s justice feel like, to me?
In scripture, over and over, God’s justice is often upside-down to my sense of fairness. God seems most unfair when I fall into looking at my actions like an ethical business exchange: I did “A” for God / my fellow humans / the earth, so God owes me “B.” (Often I find I have decided what I am owed without talking much to God.) If God doesn’t give me “B,” it feels as though God is unjust. If I lose “C,” it feels even worse. That’s not how God’s justice works, Jesus tells us. God’s justice lifts up the poor; holds servants in highest esteem; forgives the unforgiveable; loves when it hurts most to love.
Both the first reading and Gospel describe God’s justice as one experience from different perspectives. Justice is a sun: it destroys with a blazing heat and heals with rays of light. Justice is witness to God: it leads to martyrdom and eternal life. With end-times readings I always come back to C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, my favorite allegory of the afterlife. In it, when people arrive in heaven, even the softest grass in heaven feels like knives to their feet: it is more real than they are. Those who let go of what is not real (that is, not of God) enter fully into God’s reality, and the grass feels soft. In the same way, perhaps the “sun of justice” burns away what is not of God. I would feel destroyed if my entire identity were wrapped up in something that is not of God, even in something beautiful that I seek to own (like the temple in the Gospel). But, if my identity were wrapped up in a relationship with God, I would feel healed with the removal of whatever distracted from that relationship. Jesus reminds us similarly in the Gospel: don’t get too attached to the present state of the world - even the beautiful parts, even your life here - because it all pales in comparison to the life God has in mind.
How, then, can I cultivate a disposition from which to meet God’s justice and feel healed rather than destroyed? I’d need to align my identity with God’s idea of justice, rather than my own. I’d need to practice mercy, to forgive others and myself. I’d need to practice love, to choose the good of another. I’d need to practice service, to meet people who awaken my compassion and grow in kinship with them. As my own ability to empathize and feel compassion grows, I will begin to see people as precious, the way God does. I will come to know that others’ healing is my healing, too. Maybe then the sun of justice will feel like healing rays.
I wish I could share the song “Hearts on Fire” by M.D. Ridge and Timothy Smith, but a recording is not publicly available. Instead, please enjoy “Find Us Ready” by Tom Booth. We’re singing both at St. John’s this weekend.