For the last few weeks the word “justice” has been following me around. I’ve seen it in Bible verses, heard it at Mass, met parish members whose work focuses on it—the word is everywhere. We often see or hear it in mainstream media and conversations, but do we really know what it means to be “just”?
In today’s first reading, we are given glimpses of what it means to be just in a biblical sense. In Jeremiah 23:5–6, it says, “See, days are coming…when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” Although there’s much to be said about the verses, I believe the highlights of those verses are that those that are just do the following: 1. Act wisely & execute fairly; 2. Provide safety to others who wouldn’t have so otherwise; 3. Have a connection with our Lord.
While you might be thinking, yeah, that’s great and all, but what does a king or a chapter from the from the Old Testament have to do with me? Well, a lot. If you reside or work in New York City, or any metropolitan area, you’re bound to come across unjust circumstances and societal issues. Homelessness. Hunger. Poverty. Things that are beyond the average citizen’s control. Yet, despite that, I believe everyone is called to be just in their daily interactions with others. We are called to act wisely and fairly. We are called to provide safety and comfort to those without. We are called to connect with our Creator. It is through our connection with God that we are able to employ just, or fair, practices. God continuously has mercy on us, and we’re called to do the same with others, no matter what stage of life they’re in.
Being just might look differently for everyone, but in practical terms it could mean having patience during rush hour, serving a homeless individual with the dignity and respect he/she deserves, welcoming a new member of your parish with open arms, or even giving your employee another opportunity at work. During this time of Advent, as we prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, I ask that you meditate on what it means to be just and how you can apply today’s readings to your daily life.
If you need an example of what that might look like, St. Joseph is a marvelous example of someone who acted with righteousness and wisdom. When Mary discovered that she “was… with child through the holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18), she had only been betrothed to Joseph, and they hadn’t yet moved in together. In her time, adultery was a grave sin punishable by death, so being pregnant without any “logical” explanation as to how it occurred would have given Joseph enough justification to punish her publicly. Despite that, Joseph decided against punishing her because he was “unwilling to expose her to shame” and “decided to divorce her quietly” instead. This action in itself was radical and uncommon at the time, which gives us insight into the kind of character Joseph had. Instead of publicly humiliating her, at best, or stoning her, at worst, he decided to quietly settle his affairs with Mary so that their divorce wouldn’t make her an outcast or target of the community.
How often can we say this about ourselves? Do we purposefully and intentionally try to cause as little harm as possible to others during our daily interactions? Or do we sometimes act from a place of hurt and anger, thereby perpetuating the cycle? God calls us to treat others as He treats us, from a place of justice and mercy.
Joseph, however, didn’t just stop there, as we all know. He eventually accepted Mary into his home after an angel appeared to him in a dream:
“He did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matt. 1:24).
Although we can only guess what occurred then, it would be enough to speculate that Joseph might not have fully understood what was going on. He might not have understood why God was calling him to accept this woman, with whom he’d had no relations, into his home and take her as his wife. Yet he did so anyway. Just like Joseph, God calls us to follow Him through the uncertainty and discomfort. Through the sacrifices. Through the difficult decisions one must make in order to act justly. Despite how overwhelming all of this might sound, take comfort in knowing that our God gives us all the grace and strength we need. Through Him, we can obtain the wisdom and grace we need to bring a little more justice into this world we live in.