NB: This is the final excerpt from my talks at Torrey. Regular programming should return next week.
The Christian is empowered to endure the slow, often invisible, seemingly fruitless work of bringing about justice because the Christian knows that which he seeks. The charity that endures into the end of the world hopes all things, believes all things, and endures all things—and so can join the persistent widow in the endless badgering of unjust authorities to do what they ought do. The Christian has been told the end of the story, and is most eager to see glimpses of it in the world in which he lives: “I would have despaired,” the Psalmist writes, “had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
This hope does not yield to the lust of the eyes by giving in to despair when justice seems impossibly far off. The Christian looks for the one great light of the consummation of God’s Kingdom: but because this one great light is certain, the Christian may and must hope for the little lights of a merciful justice, a just mercy, here and now. Hope does not undermine action, but sustains and preserves it, even and especially when appearances contradict it. Like charity, hope also never fails: it never relents, never grows weary, never tires. Hope is younger and more vibrant than the natural optimism of youth can imagine.
The Christian may and must hope for justice here and now, in fact, because the Gospel announces a vindication of the victim that has already taken place. The Christian speaks prophetically to the world about the past: Christian action is unencumbered by the anxious striving of those who would perfect justice within this world, because it seeks to make manifest what has already been effected. The Christian prophetic stance cannot be that of the Old Testament, for we proclaim to the Lordless powers that they have been even now dethroned and defeated, and that Christ Jesus, the author of our faith, is even now seated on His throne as Lord and king of the cosmos. The Christian prophetic message bears witness to what is done: the poor really are blessed, the meek have inherited the earth, the martyrs may laugh as the flames consume them. The church can pronounce its word of blessing in the midst of unimaginable suffering, because the invincibility of Christ to sin and damage is ours in Him: we more than conquerors with Christ. We really are.
The strains of the Christian prophetic witness in our world, then, must echo those of the Mother of our Lord, Mary. With her song, which distills all that I have said, we draw these lectures to a close. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” The font and wellspring of the Christian’s pursuit of justice begins here, in the magnification of the acts of the God who saves and redeems us in the person of Jesus Christ. “For he hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden; for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” This God turns his face to the lowly: He regards them, keeping them in His hand, caring for them as a father cares for his children. His vision is true: there is no ‘lust of the eyes’ in His seeing, no hastiness in judging on behalf of the respectable, the wealthy, or those who are caught up in the appearances dominated by the boastful pride of life. He lifts up the light of His countenance upon the poor; He sees those who are unseen, whose lives have been overlooked by those who cannot be bothered. “For He that is mighty hath magnified me; and holy is His name.” The humility and humiliation of God in Jesus Christ magnifies the lowly: there is no holiness that fails to do likewise, for the holiness of God is akin to his endless charity. “And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.” The mercy of God falls upon the contrite: but we are really given this mercy for which we pray, and are really empowered to give mercy to others. The prayer for mercy fears only the severity of God’s kindness, the sharpness of His grace: it has no commerce with the ungodly fear of destruction or vengeance or punishment within our world today. This God is to be feared, but feared as children might fear disappointing their father, knowing all the while his endless love for them. In this fear, and only this fear, do we learn to pray for the mercy that seasons justice.
And then within Mary’s song we encounter the six great past-tense verbs, the description of what God has done in Jesus Christ. They are future events for Mary, but are so secure she can speak of them as already accomplished. “He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts; he hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek; he hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.” The “form of this world,” Paul tells the Corinthians, is passing away. The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God reveals that the injustices that surround and afflict us cannot touch us: God has abased the proud, and lifted up the humble. He has scattered the proud, and has fed the hungry. He has accomplished his victory, and within His life we actively await and seek its revelation. The fight against injustice is a fight against a vanquished foe: a powerful foe, yes, but one which is raging because it has been shamed and exposed as impotent before the whole company of the heavens.
And all this is a work of God’s gracious faithfulness to His promises: “He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his seed for ever.” So Mary’s song prophetically denounces the Lordless powers, by announcing the triumph of Jesus Christ over all the nations. God has acted, and we must not forget or neglect his it. The dawn of the new day has appeared: God has kept His promise to His people, demonstrating the faithfulness of His justice within the covenant He made with Abraham. “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear Him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of justice: it is the only way justice can be saved, and we, ourselves, along with it.