Poetic Justice

Today’s readings:

  • 1 John 3:7-10
  • John 1:35-42

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass Texts.

In hoc manifesti sunt filii Dei, et filii diaboli. Omnis qui non est justus, non est ex Deo, et qui non diligit fratrem suum:
This, then, is how God’s children and the devil’s children are known apart. A man cannot trace his origin from God if he does not live right, if he does not love his brethren.
1 John 3:10 (Knox)

St John says he who does not poion dikaiosynen is not of God. He was does not live right is not on the path. The Apostolic epistles of like this idea of “living right”. It is beyond important – it is the center of Christian spirituality. It’s here, I think, in the use of this word ποιέω poieo – do or make.  It’s the same word from whence we get “poet”.  Hold that thought. It’s about doing, about a way of action it is, in some obvious respects, exactly “works righteousness” that so many Protestants want us to avoid. There is something to do here.

(Side note, this “poieo” word occurs 572 times in the NT. There’s a word study worth doing!)

That word δικαιοσύνη dikaiosyne means justice. In the LXX it’s the Greek word used for the Hebrew tzadek צֶדֶק.  It’s how one describes straight paths, just balances, or fair laws. You, my dear Christian heart, are expected to live that way. We are called to do justice (see footnote, re: Micah 6:8), to be Poets of Justice. Justice does not mean, “do whatever you want and we will write laws to defend you in your selfishness.” Justice, rather, means walking along God’s straight and narrow path. If it’s not found there, it’s not justice at all. It maybe what you want, crave, or are addicted to – but it’s not just for you to have it nor for someone else to provide it or permit you.

The other side of that coin – of course – is that the works do not make us righteous. They are the sign of our righteousness, of our walking with God. You can’t just say “I believe” here and let it all pass. You have to be doing something or nothing is happening. But we don’t do these works of ourselves, more on that later.

St John ties living right in with loving our brother. As I posted a few days ago, that’s not philia, it’s not friendship with our brother it’s agape: that divine love that moves us all to perfection. This is not the apathetic, bland tolerance that passes for “non-judgemental love” today, leaving us in our sins and our weaknesses. This love calls, pushes, jabs, and dances us forward. As for this verse to be living right is loving our brother then to be this poet of justice is to move our brothers and sisters into that justice too.

Truly poetic justice semper reformare me est – is always reforming me – but not only me. If this music is singing out it should move all around me into the divine Dance of self-emptying.

Lately I’ve been praying the prayers of The Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Those of you who know me will know this is a needed discipline for me. There are two prayers (one asking for the intercession of St Thomas Aquinas and one written by him) then one says 15 Aves a day for specific intentions. As time and the assigned readings permit over the coming 6 weeks or so prior to Lent I want to look at these prayers and intentions. This is where I find this Poetic Justice singing out in my life just now.

For today, then, a look at the first of the prayers. This one, written by Thomas Aquinas, will give us a hint about the poetic justice of this passage from St John.

Dear Jesus, I know that every perfect gift, and especially that of chastity, depends on the power of Your providence. Without You a mere creature can do nothing. Therefore, I beg You to defend by Your grace the chastity and purity of my body and soul. And if I have ever imagined or felt anything that could stain my chastity and purity, blot it out, Supreme Lord of my powers, that I may advance with a pure heart in Your love and service, offering myself on the most pure altar of Your divinity all the days of my life. Amen.

Every perfect gift depends on the providence of God: we have no virtue of ourselves, without God’s grace. This poetry is not written on themes of our own devising. Forgive me, but there is no Jazz here. There is, however, unfolding, an exploration of themes or leitmotifs as in a great opera. What we here God saying to us we say in our own lives by his grace. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is about chastity and sexual purity. Yet, the concept applies for all the virtues: they arise and grow within us from God’s gift. We must offer ourselves for it, in order to “advance with a pure heart in God’s love and service.”

We must become poets by learning from the first (and only) Poet. We become just at the very fount of justice. We become chaste praying to the very author of chastity. And as we acquire that salvation, so too those around us will share in it.

By way of footnote: this is not, as I expected, the same phrase that’s used in Micah 6:8 – “do Justice”. there is a translation of the Hebrew implying “make good judgements in court”. That’s a different concept than tzadek or dikaiosyne.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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