John the Radical
Today is Gaudate Sunday in the Church - a time to rejoice over the coming of the Messiah. Some should look at the reading, however, and have great fear.
When one thinks of repentance in the Church, one expects to hear about repentance from personal sins, however in Luke's Gospel today, John does not talk about that kind of sin. He talks about sins against justice. He tells those with two cloaks to give one away and to those with food to feed those who are hungry. He tells tax collectors and soldiers not to take more than their due. In all of these things, he challenges the hierarchical society of the time. He also threatens those who do not heed his words, that the coming Messiah will cast them into the unquenchable fires. If one is in a position of comfort, these words cannot be comforting.
They are about more than personal charity this season (although the Church is wise in taking up a collection today for Catholic Charities). These are words of justice. Today the tax collector and the extorting soldier have been replaced with the capitalist and the CEO who demand princely salaries in return for keeping the salaries of their workers as low as possible. While this makes sense from a total cost standpoint, it is not just. A just distribution of wages would have the children of the janitor able to afford the same schools as the children of the CEO. It would have the least worker make enough so that she would not have to take a second job to feed her children. Money is not the only factor in quality of life - she would also be able to take off with pay when her child is ill or needs an annual checkup and have the same quality health care as the people whose offices she cleans (and the same influence in the political process through a path to citizenship if she is an immigrant).
Of course many will cry out that the current climate of injustice is not their doing - its the System! To some extent, that is true. It was true in the time of John and Jesus as well, however. Both of them preached not only personal transformation (although that is important), but also societal transformation in a coming Kingdom of God. It is up to all of us to help bring about the Kingdom, indeed, we pray to do so in the Our Father.
If John's words were heeded, both personally and systemically, there would be no opposition to health care reform by any Catholic. The tax code would not subsidize million dollar homes while poor families struggle to make rent or live in shelters. Instead it would give each family a tax credit for each child that is large enough for all to have housing. The Church would not be concerned with the abortion rate, because with justice flowing like a river, women and girls would not resort to abortion out of fear that they could not sufficiently care for the child.
John's words are a cause of rejoicing for the poor, however, as he demands justice on their behalf and promises a Redeemer who will bring this justice to them.
Are we willing to heed John's words, which sadly in a society which calls itself Christian, are as true now as they were 2000 years ago?