The cry for justice, for the setting right of the world is deep in the scriptures. Israel’s faith is born in the cry of the people in bondage and anchored again in the cry of despair at the destruction of Jerusalem. The book of Job struggles mightily with the question of suffering and finds no answer, only the inscrutability of God. Ecclesiastes bears witness to the randomness of life:
The race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
nor bread to the wise,
nor riches to the intelligent,
nor favor to the skillful;
but time and chance happen to them all. (9:11)
Some of the psalms sing of the goodness of life, but many more cry for deliverance and lament injustice. No lament is more compelling than that of Lamentations. It captures completely the grief and desolation of a city and nation destroyed by greed and violence.
Like the poet of Lamentations, the prophets point to our sins of idolatry and the betrayal of God’s command for justice and mercy as the source of our sorrows, yet even they cry out for God to set things right. They expect this of God. They demand it of God. And when their warnings have come to their brutal fulfillment, the prophets point towards the promise of a world renewed.
We are supposed to learn from the devastating consequences of our turn from God’s way. We are meant to find new spirits and new hearts and a new allegiance to love and faithfulness to all. We are supposed to turn towards that divine reality that called forth the world and calls us still from death into life.
The painful cry of Mary, the painful cry of every grieving mother and child, the painful cry of every prisoner to injustice and sorrow, the lament of every crucified, is a demand for God to see and come and reign in us.
The prayer Jesus taught us was not a pious expression of reverence but a demand for God’s reign to come, God’s will to be done, here on earth. It demands that God’s name – all that God stands for, all that God seeks and commands, all justice and mercy and faithfulness – be revered now. It requires that our bread be shared and all debts lifted and insists we should receive all this today, this day, not some uncertain tomorrow.
We dare to shout to the heavens because this is the work of heaven we have seen – in the Exodus, at Sinai, in the prophets and poets or Israel, in the voice and hands of Jesus. Sinners are welcomed, outcasts are gathered, the wounded are healed, the bound set free. And our righteous, insistent cry means that we ourselves would care for the poor and visit the prisoners and comfort those who weep. We would live the justice we seek. We would do the mercy we seek. We would be the hands and heart of Jesus in the world.
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