“Real peace is not just the absence of conflict- it is the presence of justice.” Martin Luther King.
Dawn, April 25. In hushed cities and towns all over Australia, school children shuffle and stamp their feet, blowing softly into the sleeves of school jackets to warm their hands, awed and sombre. Early sun picks out the light on bronzed medallions. Aging muscles ache in autumn cold. A dog pauses to watch, head on one side. And the parade grinds into life.
For most people around Australia, the gallant fight ‘to remember’ during peace-time is a tough call. Nightly news images of battle-worn places aside, it’s difficult to relate to the sheer horror of war. For many of us, conflict is confined to the M5 motorway during peak hour and arguments with our teenagers over the appropriate time to upgrade to the iphone 5.
So do we live in peace?
If you consider the words of Martin Luther King – that real peace requires not just the absence of conflict but the presence of justice – then you’d have to answer no. There’s not much justice in a society where the richest 10% of the Australian population are more than 10 times wealthier than the poorest 10%. Not much justice when as many as one in four children even here in Australia don’t start school ready to learn – lacking experience with letters and numbers, socially and emotionally underprepared. Many are from families where no one has held a job for two generations. There’s not much justice when the life expectancy of an Aboriginal man and a white man differs by up to 12 years.
Kick those statistics out globally and the picture becomes even more dire. Where’s the justice in a world where more people officially now die of diseases relating to over-eating than from starvation? Doesn’t it make you just a little uncomfortable to know that the world’s poorest people will pay most heavily in terms of climate related disasters even though it’s the world’s wealthiest countries creating most global pollution?
We live in a world torn by conflict, and peace depends upon justice.
The Scriptures speak at length about justice, especially for the poor. From the prophets and the early church fathers to Jesus and the writers of the epistles, the message is crystal clear: people are not poor through any fault of their own, through accident or curse. They are poor because their rights are trampled, because they are not paid what they are owed, because people in power take more than they need, because those who have enough do not share. The early church father John Chrysostom said that the shoes of the wealthy belong to the poor people who have no shoes. People are poor because they’re denied justice and those responsible will be held to account. The prophet Isaiah puts it simply:
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:17
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus echoes Isaiah’s voice when he describes his call.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’. Luke 4: 18-19
Our work at UnitingWorld as peacebuilders and partners in God’s mission is about so much more than meeting need as it arises. It’s not about simple charity for ‘people who are poor’ and it’s not just about responding to need. It’s about participating in the reign of justice that finds expression in the life of Jesus. It’s about working with our partners to break the systems that cause poverty and injustice and being part of the world as it should be, as it is becoming and as it is in Christ.
Justice extends a call on the daily business of our lives – the choices we make in the supermarket about which item to buy and how much we consume. Justice asks us to speak up at election time and call our leaders to keep their commitment to foreign aid not only because it works, but because the poor have a right to a share in the abundance that the rest of the world enjoys. Justice asks us to live more simply. Justice calls us to dig deeper. It calls us to identify ourselves as the rich and powerful and make change accordingly.
Justice is confronting. Far easier for each of us to feel that we are involved because we are big hearted, because ‘the poor need our compassion.’ The Scriptures tell a different story. Yes, we’re called to love. But the clarion call to justice can’t be ignored.
And there’s no lasting peace without it. Lest we forget.