As I said last week, this time of year – Advent and Christmas –
is all about pointing toward the Kingdom Jesus will one day establish.
Today, I want to talk about the first reading mentions: JUSTICE.
What is Kingdom Justice?
God’s Justice is complete in a way human justice cannot be.
We have a “justice system”:
police, courts, lawyers, judges, and prisons.
It isn’t perfect; it gets abused sometimes.
“We the people” are ultimately in charge,
and if we get mad enough, and mobilized enough,
you and I can change those laws and the judges and the prosecutors.
This is a good time to make a key point:
As Christians, it is our duty
to bring as much of God’s justice as we can into this world.
You and I cannot make this world perfect,
but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better than it is.
And one of the things we will answer for, before God,
is whether we made any attempts, whether we ever lifted our voice,
or put ourselves out to bring more justice, more healing, in our world.
Even when our system of justice is at its best,
no human process or punishment can undo the injuries done.
At the end of the road, we send someone to prison,
or perhaps even execute someone.
As you know, the last several popes and our bishops
have called for abolition of the death penalty if possible.
The reason is not that some people don’t deserve the worst penalty –
because some certainly do deserve it –
but because killing people, if we don’t have to,
doesn’t help us respect the dignity of human life.
But the main point I want to make is that in the end,
the most our justice system can do is punish.
We call prisons “penitentiaries,” in hope of bringing reform.
But if you take a close look at prison life – if you can stomach it –
you will see how powerless you and I are at bringing true justice.
Terrible people go to prison and they hone their skills at evil.
The good news is that some people do experience grace in prison.
They hit bottom and finally call out to God.
God’s justice isn’t only punishment, but healing.
God’s justice is holiness and wholeness.
There is no criminal so vile that God does not long to restore.
It’s very hard to comprehend how God does this.
There is both the human side and the God side of the process.
The part we understand is that sin and wrong do need punishment,
there do need to be consequences.
Sometimes – I emphasize, sometimes – this happens in this life.
People may seem to get off easy, but God is not fooled.
This is the mercy of purgatory – and I emphasize, mercy!
Purgatory is the perfect example of God’s justice,
in contrast to human justice,
because purgatory isn’t only punishment, it is healing.
Think of the thief on the cross, dying next to Jesus.
We don’t know what crimes he committed,
but they could be the most horrendous you can imagine.
The human side was, he was punished – terribly!
But then there’s the divine side:
God was nailed to the Cross next to that thief!
It wasn’t an accident: Jesus chose to die with and for that man!
That’s the God side. You and I could never pay what we owe.
God pays for us!
Two criminals died with Jesus that day, on either side.
One rejected him and all he offered.
The other cried out for mercy and was told,
This day you will be with me in Paradise!
Does that mean the good thief had no purgatory?
No. He was crucified, so that may have been his purgatory.
Or, for all we know, his purgatory and ours
takes but an instant in earthly terms.
So finally, we come to the frightening scene in the Gospel.
The upheaval it shows is what happens when God’s Justice meets worldly injustice!
But notice Jesus says, you and I can stand before him, unafraid!
On that day, we need not be ashamed,
if we chose to stand for His Justice, and to live it,
while we wait and pray for the coming of his Kingdom.