Ruling with justice: a reflection on the incarnation
Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer
Today's Take will be taking a break for a few days. The next posting will be Jan. 5.
Because this page will be up for some time, I thought I would leave readers with something to think about. I received the following Christmas message from the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based group.
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The AHRC produces a weekly e-mail newsletter titled "Religious Perspectives on Human Rights," which is issued by Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic and Christian Groups on Human Rights.
I thought the group's Christmas message was a profound reflection on justice and the Incarnation.
He Rules With Justice
Christmas Message for 2003
Asian Human Rights Commission
The life of Jesus whose birth the Christians in Asia and around the world celebrate on December 25 offers us today a thought-provoking concept of justice and power. For Jesus, power was basically to affirm life in all its dimensions irrespective of any man made distinctions. Power was not something to be grabbed from people but something to be given so that all feel empowered. Similarly, justice as advocated by Jesus was founded on equality, love, respect for others and a recognition of the dignity of all people. The refusal of dignity to any individual on the basis of birth, deformity, sin or crime by those in power, either clerical or civil, was at the heart of Jesus' contention.
The justice by the rulers, however, was not the model of justice that the people of his time expected. For a long time, they had awaited with anticipation the coming of the Messiah, a Messiah that would liberate them from bondage and injustice. They were dissatisfied with the rulers under whom they had lived for generations, who had failed to deliver justice to the widows, the orphans, the homeless, the poor and the dejected. This deep dissatisfaction drew them to long for a 'ruler' with a more profound sense of justice.
In a context where the delivery of justice was the prerogative of the one in power, justice took the form of injustice as the latter was used to enhance one's power. In such a situation when the delivery of justice is in the hands of the powerful there is no accountability or transparency. Its justification comes only from power and those that have access to power. Jesus' humble birth was the anti-climax to this matrix of power and justice. It in fact challenged that model at a symbolic level, with Jesus being born among the powerless -- the shepherds. His birth laid down the two main principles for power and justice, namely that power is in being with the people and justice is in the recognition of equal dignity of all.
Jesus also revealed that justice is not simply the final decision of a ruler or a court or an abstract concept but a declaration and an open affirmation of the dignity to which each individual is entitled to. Christ's 'last judgement': "I was hungry..., I was thirsty..., I was homeless..., I was in prison" was a victim oriented justice that equally upheld the right of the criminal - "I was in prison .. and you visited me." If his sense of justice demanded him to identify both with the victims and the perpetrators of crimes, there is the need to raise certain questions regarding the way these categories are treated today. How we can accompany both victims and perpetrators so that their dignity is promoted and upheld remains a major challenge. In this way, Jesus also solicits an evaluation of our standards of justice. To Jesus, justice is not only about punishment. It also includes how to stand in solidarity and assist the victim, how to help the defendant regain their humanity.
If today's rulers even attempted to emulate the example of Jesus, our contemporary justice systems would be very different. Fair trials would be commonplace; torture would no longer be a norm; arbitrary detentions would be condemned by all. After more than 2,000 years, however, Asia's people are still awaiting the justice that Jesus advocated.
Contact information for the Asian Human Rights Commission:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.ahrchk.net
Unit D,7 Floor,16 Argyle Street
Mongkok Commercial Centre
Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
Tel: +(852)-2698-6339 Fax: +(852)-2698-6367
For people looking for other Christmas meditations, I offer you a selection of reflections from the extended NCR family of writers:
Can we spread true peace at Christmas?
Merry Christmas to all.
By Virginia Saldanha in Mumbai, India.
It is said that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Are some people denied the joys of gift giving because of their inability to buy gifts?
Making Christmas relevant to suffering people
By Fr. Joe Komakoma in Lusaka, Zambia
For the millions of Zambians who lack the bare necessities of life, there is very little to cheer about when Christmas comes. Life is one long Advent that they spend preparing, fighting and waiting for a better tomorrow. How do you celebrate Christmas when you are faced with abject poverty and widespread illness, crowned by the devastating toll of HIV/AIDS?
Holism is at the heart of the Nativity
By Rich Heffern
The practical love for all creation of St. Francis, the Little Poor Man of Assisi, has endured for over eight centuries. Francis' biographer, Thomas of Celano, noted that of all religious solemnities Christmas was the saint's favorite. He called it "the Feast of Feasts, the day when God became a little child and nourished himself with the milk of a woman."
Another Christmas in a prison visiting room
By Jens Söring
Is there any sight more depressing than a prison visiting room at Christmastime? Most prisoners have lost all contact with their families, but of those who do get visits, many get only this one, on the third weekend of December.
A Christmas letter from Bangladesh
By Fr. Bob McCahill
Every Christmas, Maryknoll Fr. Bob McCahill shares with family and friends, including NCR, a reflection on his ministry among the Muslim people of Bangladesh. Many years ago he decided his ministry would be the simple act of being present. He arrives in a village, makes friends and helps the locals when they allow it. But his main objective is simply being there.
Christmas messages from the Holy Land
By Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders
Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders are American Presbyterians working in the Palestinian Christian village of Zababdeh at the invitation of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. They are making a documentary film, "Salt of the Earth: Palestinian Christians in the Northern West Bank," that follows people's lives in places such as Zababdeh, Jenin and Nablus.
Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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