First Reading: Acts 6:1-7; Psalm: 33. R. v. 22; Second Reading: 1Pt 2:4-9; Gospel: Jn 14:1-12
NO GROWTH WITHOUT JUSTICE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“Show me a growing community without dispute and controversies and I will prove to you how so surreptitiously they are starved of growth and progress.” (Anonymous)
There are lots of people who see disputes and controversies as retrogressive and unhelpful. Much as they have their reasons, I would like to differ a little. When we see people argue or fight over certain issues, we should not hasten to categorise them as obstructive but should rather pay attention to the bone of contention. It is then and only then that we can reasonably ascertain if they are surging towards progress or retrogressing. In every heated issue, the division of disagreement therein does not define or affect the essence of the matter disagreed upon. Most often, progress emerges from a very divisive debate.
As we read from the first reading of today, the growing Church in Jerusalem was disturbed by a very heated dispute. The Church was just getting off the ground and as the number of disciples surged higher, dispute arose among them. The dispute was between two sets of widows: The Greek speaking Jewish widows that have come to imbibe the foreign Greek culture while in diaspora (The Hellenists). And the Aramaic speaking Jewish widows, likely the natives of the land (The Hebrews). The Hellenists complained bitterly how they were neglected in the daily distribution of food while the Hebrews were favoured. As at this time, the believers shared everything in common whether in cash or kind.
Now, a look at this matter on a surface level would suggest division among this community of believers. But when we shift our attention to the crux of the matter, we would discover that this was a matter of pursuit of justice. Apparently, those in charge of food sharing truly favoured the Hebrews over the Hellenists otherwise the outcry of the Hellenists wouldn’t hold water and would not necessitate the swift reaction of the apostles in resolving this issue. It is unfair and unjust to be treated as a second class citizen among those we regard as family; and it is even more callous and unbecoming of a believer to promote such favouritism. This was why the Hellenists cried out for justice. Growth is suffocated wherever truth and justice is silenced.
We can often limit growth to numeric increase. But growth is beyond that. Growth happens when justice prevails. When we promote fairness and equality, we advance unity and growth. This is why the tension or the fear of disagreement should not deter our pursuit of justice. We must guard against always letting the sleeping dog lie especially in the face of wrong. If that sleeping dog was going to bark and bite and thereafter things get better, then poke the dog. Let it rise and bark. Let it bite. If the Hellenist widows kept mute regarding the injustice they suffered for the fear of division and disagreement, perhaps things would not improve as it did when they reacted.
One of the problems of some Christians is the fear of challenging certain uncommon practices in Churches today. Religion has so neutralised us that we feel we may be attacking God or touching his anointed when we become critical or evaluative on certain issues. Jesus never erred but was open to criticism. Our priests and pastors cannot always be right. Our fellow Christians will make mistakes in their judgements. And inclusively, we also have the propensity to be biased. So when for the fear of disagreement, quarrel or division we keep mute over issues regarding justice and right, we destroy or retard the exponential growth of the Church.
When we were babies and kids our parents were always right. Then, we do not possess the critical mind to see through their defects and biases. But as we come of age we began to see them differently and challenged them accordingly. Not because we knew better but because we have come to see and understand them differently. Growth begins when we come to that stage where we stop accepting everything and begin to ask if all we knew all along were right and just. Sometimes we tend to see Christianity as a way of life that accepts and endures everything. But the Hellenist widows thought and acted otherwise. Christianity does not accept everything but only that which is just and right.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” Jesus is the Way because following his footsteps is the right path to heaven. Jesus is the Truth because it is only by witnessing to his gospel of truth that we can promote justice and right in our world. And Jesus is the Life because he gives life to those who follow his ways by witnessing to the truth. I can bet we all know what Jesus would do in the face of injustice and biases. So let’s take a leaf out of his book.
We are challenged today to look out for matters of injustice in our Churches, homes, and communities and to speak about them so as to promote a healthy growing community. Much as our priests, pastors, parents and mentors deserve our reverence and admiration; we must be careful not fall into the error of canonizing them as saints devoid of wrong judgement. We must always evaluate their decisions and guidance with the lens of truth and guard against Okaying everything. Every human person is susceptible to biases and wrong decisions irrespective of who we are and what we do.
Also, when we take up the fight to promote and restore justice, we can be misconstrued as agents of conflict and dissension. Presently in Nigeria, the lack of consensus between political parties in the aftermath of her just concluded February presidential elections have been misinterpreted by many as a divisive fight incited by ethnicity and religion. But to all intents and purposes, it is a fight for justice and fairness. And justice and fairness can only be accepted and promoted by men and women of good repute, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. These were the qualities of the seven men elected to resolve the conflict between the Hellenist and the Hebrew widows.
So today we pray at this Mass that God may pour down his Holy Spirit upon us and ignite in us the spirit of wisdom and good repute so that we may be open to the truth and promote justice and fairness in our world. I would also like to pray for my country Nigeria at this Mass; that God may send down his Spirit of wisdom upon the five Appeal court judges appointed to preside over the political anomalies recorded in her just concluded presidential elections. So that justice may prevail and peace restored.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, send down your spirit of wisdom upon our world that we may stand for what is just and true and promote justice and right. Amen