24th Sunday Reflection: Restorative Justice: Creativity and Community
24th Sunday In Ordinary Time Year A – Restorative Justice: Creativity and Community – (Matthew 18:21-35)
“The gospel is profoundly scandalous, and until we hear at least a whisper of its scandal, we risk not hearing any part of it (Griffith, 1993, p. 1).”
What have we done O Lord, what have we done? This is always the first step towards repentance and conversion. We as pilgrims on the roads of history are called to confront how the message of Christ has been and continues to be subverted and misused to separate and oppress with pride and impunity.
Beyond personal conversion, this is a call on the whole community towards a commitment to influence through servanthood and not through power… to seek daily a change of heart as the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
We also have pierced the heart of the beloved, so that as we gaze on the one we have pierced, we call out: What are we to do? What can we do? What ought we to do?
Returning to the spiritual roots of Restorative Justice we find ourselves, as Christians, challenged to discover new ways of doing justice, learning to dream new dreams, and pursuing new visions. It is a call to co-operation, and partnership in new creative ways.
Restorative Justice is a call to build new communities where acceptance and reconciliation are realities that are lived in the community of the covenant of love between God and humankind.
Being a follower of Christ calls us to become part of a community committed to justice in a world of injustices, a community committed to listening to all sides when crime happens, a community committed to a truth beyond the guilty/not guilty dichotomy and a community committed to offering opportunities for reparation and peacemaking so that offenders and victims find healing in a community of hope.
Assured of God’s justice and under-girded by God’s presence, we as Christians, are called to break the cycle of violence by refusing to be caught in the cycle of revenge.
Even though our endeavours to love our enemies will all too often find us also hanging on a cross, it is these costly acts of non-retaliation that become the seed from which the fragile fruit of Pentecostal peace grows… a peace between people from different cultural spaces gathered in one place who understand each other’s languages and share in each other’s goods.
The bloody horror and the terror of our history, our complacency, and our complicity, force us to look away from the darkness that leads us to the edge of madness. The subverted nature of Jesus’ parable, leads us to confront this heart of darkness, where we are led through Pans’ Labyrinth to confront an unimaginable Dickensian melange of grief.
We look upon the face of slavery, an abomination that seeks to annihilate this divine image and to imprint upon the soul the nature and value of property. This is a cruel and ruthless system in which the slave pays for the cost of their sustenance with their strength, their youth, and every naturally gifted capacity. All their earnings beyond sustenance are for the account of the slave master and the upholding of the Empire.
It is here that we come face-to-face with a monster… the monster that not only enslaves but also indebts the slave and the slave’s family. This is an indebtedness that can never be repaid for the slave has been placed in prison to be tortured in perpetuity. We have transposed the nature of the beast onto the face of God who now becomes the bloodthirsty tyrant.
Each one of us, whether rich or poor, doorman or president, prisoner or biker, has a balance sheet. Accounts owed and accounts owing. I think that most of us will recognise that in our world of today where the vast majority of our earth’s population will have a balance sheet that tends to be heavily weighted towards the accounts owing side… our debts.
We are however kept on the treadmill by the promise, by the possibility of a seat at the feast of the high table. Yet this high table really never becomes any bigger… it is only the appetite of those who sit at this table that continues to grow ever more avaricious.
Pope Francis reminds us that currently 50 of the world’s richest people, could at the stroke of a pen, finance medical care, and education for every poor child in the world.
This possibility at the high table keeps us borrowing heavily against our future earnings, whether this is for our dreams or basic necessities like food, shelter, transport, and medical costs, or whether this is for more transient pleasures or diversions.
Sinful and unjust economic systems that enslave and dehumanise have a long history in our world. For the conquered and exploited people who heard these words of Jesus, farmers, servants, and labourers, they would have understood fully what it meant to owe much against income that never quite stretched far enough.
The nature of the beast was clear enough to these people suffering from dehumanising exploitation. For them and for our Church Fathers, it is the devil, the accuser, the Inquisitor, and not God, who illegitimately insists on the payment of the debt incurred by humankind.
Just as in the interpretation of our dreams, the parables that Jesus uses call on us to put on the person of each character portrayed. And so we begin by placing ourselves in the shoes of the servant whose debts are written off.
We have been called into the bank and are told that all outstanding loans have been called up but as a special birthday promotion, the bond on our property is to be written off. In addition to this great boon our credit card balances, bank overdrafts, and motor car loans will be settled by the bank. All our debts, all our sleepless nights, and all our worries were written off in one stroke. Imagine the joy as the bond document is ceremoniously torn up and all the settlement payments are made by the bank. Your life has been completely changed and you have been given a new beginning.
You arrive home and share the wonderful news with the family and there is great excitement and joy. Later that evening it’s time for you to pay the wages of the household maid and you deduct the small loan that was made to cover transport costs. This is all just in accordance with the terms and conditions of her employment.
As we put ourselves in the shoes of this servant, we can feel the bitterness and resentment against those who have so much while we have so little.
The bank however comes to hear about what has taken place and you are summoned back to appear before the directors. All the gifts that you were given in terms of the debts that were written off and cancelled by the bank of rescinded and everything now become due and payable with immediate effect.
Gifts that are taken back… how can this be just and equitable? Certainly, God who is the ultimate good and our moral compass cannot act in such a way so we need to look more closely at where Jesus is leading us.
We see ourselves as upright, just and deserving of the gifts we receive… after all, we are hard-working and generous to our families. Yet from the top of my ladder of success and fortune, the rarefied air is like a mirage that distorts my view of the connectedness with those holding the base of the ladder in place.
No, God never takes back his grace, his gifts… it is we who turn away from the connectedness with each other that leads us to unity with God.
Forgiveness and healing are God’s gifts to us within the community where we have practised this forgiveness and healing between ourselves. I think that this can only become a reality from a heart that practices humility and gratitude.
Each time that I become angry at another’s words or actions, I am called to remember how my own words and actions have hurt others.
Each time that I become distressed and upset about injustice and dishonesty, I slip beneath my practised mask to look upon my own greed and indifference.
Each time that I look upon another’s incompetence, I call to mind the time of my own utter inability to hold back a single instant of time.
Each time that I feel anger and resentment against those who seem to have it all, I look deep within to see the eyes of envy staring back at me from the abyss.
Each morning is a time to recall all the graces I have received and each evening to ask for God’s forgiveness and healing on the fractures I have left behind me through my day.
All of us are connected but in our illusion of separateness and independence, we lead our lives always on the brink of anguish and hopelessness. We have been taught to pray to “Our Father” and not “My Father” so that the first ancestor, who is both mother and father of all humanity, may wipe away our debts and our tears as we have written off the debts and the tears of others.
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