What Is Truly Required

What Is Truly Required


In his book, The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need, Peter Gomes, the legendary chaplain of Harvard, now deceased (may he rest in peace), comments on justice saying:

For most twentieth-century Americans, the fictitious character of lawyer Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is the figure of justice….

        …The novel was made incarnate in the movie version that featured the incorruptible Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, and it is Atticus Finch who could easily have settled for peace, but who risks all for justice for the least of those among his townsmen. The question of equality before the law, as the prerequisite of true justice, challenges the peace; and I would argue that there is no better moral tale in all of modern American literature – since Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn – that better illustrates the virtue of justice and the attainment of genuine peace. To enjoy the rights and benefits of peace one must exercise the duties and responsibilities of justice. The modern temptation is to accept a revision of the ‘Golden Rule,’ one that might say, ‘Do unto others before they do unto you,’ which to many might seem an appropriate accommodation to reality. The moral life says that this may accomplish a temporary satisfaction, and even the illusion of peace. Real and genuine peace, however, and not simply the absence of visible conflict, requires the priority of justice, the intentional decision to do what is right toward God and one’s neighbor.”

These are words worth pondering as we confront a variety of personalities and forces in our nation and world that seem hell-bent on self-destruction by means of self-aggrandizement, among a variety of other vices.  To recover the true meaning of justice, means returning to the words of the prophet Micah, “. . .what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?: (Micha 6:8).  Unlike those whose ethic of justice translates to “just us,” the prophetic imperative for justice requires a humane stance in kindness, which is the empathetic ability to see one’s neighbor in one’s self, and humility, which is the self-admission of one’s own glorious incompleteness.  Only after we’ve connected deeply with each other is true justice even approachable.  To do what is right, requires conscious introspection and honest engagement with that which is larger than one’s self.  If there is a mission for the modern faith-community, it is in part, the ability to help those it serves to recover this consciousness and to assist each in finding ways to actualize and express the same in the world. Such work takes courage.  Which is what I wish for each of you in the new year.

Rev. Aaron Payson, Minister