~Ancient Wisdom For All Time~
“Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Guess who wrote that? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Dorothy Day? Nelson Mandela? They are all Christians who wrote and/or said words very similar to these words, but the person who wrote those words preceded all of them by over 1500 years. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in the 3rd century wrote, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”
Christians are mandated to provide charity: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to those without shelter, visit the sick. But to provide charity without working for justice is like trying to move a train on one track when it requires two. Justice seeks to answer the difficult questions: why are people hungry, why don’t they have enough clothes to wear or adequate shelter, what is making them sick?
It’s estimated that over 1300 people die every year from pollution related illnesses in the area that includes Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank. In the Inland Empire that number is 808. (Orange County Register, August, 11, 2016) We could just accept the world as it is, that pollution is the price of industry, but why do we do that? St. Augustine challenges Christians across the ages to remember that the work of the church is not charity only, putting band aids on the cuts and bruises. The work of the church is also to address the source of the distress; this is the work of justice.
Justice ultimately looks like compassion. Compassion is the ability to feel for another person, to listen deeply to their pain and their joy. It is how we show love. We are to love God and our neighbor as our self. Justice is the result of what happens when we love authentically God and our neighbor as our self. “Let justice roll down like waters.” (Amos 5:24)