Bending Toward Justice
A monumental debate. A police chase. Political shake-ups. An eclipse! There always seems to be plenty to report on and the past few weeks have been no exception. Once we fall into the black hole of the next tragic thing, it’s easy to have one of two responses: an overwhelming discouragement at the “world today” or a disillusioned shutting down and turning out. This Sunday’s readings shake us out of our despair and hardness of heart, if we let them because they speak something strangely unnerving and deeply comforting: that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The Gospel features Peter’s confession of faith. When questioned as to Jesus’ identity, then-Simon proclaims his Messianic role without hesitation. Two weeks ago Peter sunk on the waves. Several months from now, when Lent rolls around again, we’ll hear him deny Jesus at the most critical hour. But in the midst of that oscillating conviction, Peter’s confession stands. We might not always understand why or how, but Jesus Christ is Lord. In the tumult of this world, we might not always understand his ways, as St. Paul writes in the second reading: “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?” (vv. 33-34). All the same, Jesus Christ is Lord.
Perhaps part of God’s most confounding wisdom is that he delegates it. In the first reading, we see a glimpse at the historical role of the steward as one who bears the full authority over his master’s house. The same “keeper of the keys” language is bestowed upon Peter in the Gospel. God appoints, God delegates, God gives us a role and responsibility for his creation and his people. The Church has special authority in this, but no one is exempt from the call.
In the wake of Charlottesville, Catholic recording artist Audrey Assad posted a paraphrase of Martin Luther King, Jr. to her Instagram feed: “I invite you to take a moment and recognize that you and I are part of the bending of the moral arc of the universe towards justice.” We all know that human actions can tear faith asunder. Like anti-sacraments, sin makes present the disorder and chaos it signifies. But good can also become incarnate. We make it real and tangible every time we open ourselves to the grace of God.
We know we can’t fix everything. In the balance of our own life’s responsibilities, we’re right to be wary and prudent with our time and energies. However, we cry with the psalmist: “Do not forsake the work of your hands”; we can’t resign God’s action to the realm of the miraculous. Every day, step by step, by our actions of love, we can be part of the concrete experience of God’s fidelity in the world.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
— Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way, Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw (1937–2004).