Thinking Anew – Justice and faith in times of adversity
Dublin Castle statue of “Lady Justice”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
A statue of Justitia, more commonly known as Lady Justice, is a common sight on courthouses and other public buildings around the world, but the one situated over the gates of Dublin Castle is, according to an official website, unusual: “While statues of this kind can be found on government buildings all over the world, the majority of these statues face out over the city and its people. Only in Dublin Castle does she face inward to the courtyard, turning her back on the people of the city. This obscure positioning of the statue gave rise to the saying: ‘The Statue of Justice, mark well her station, her face to the castle and her (back) to the nation!’”
There is a suggestion here that human justice systems, no matter how well intentioned or principled, are vulnerable to prejudice, not to mention outside pressures.
Attempts by the Trump administration to pack the American court system with “conservative” judges make the latter point.
In tomorrow’s gospel reading Jesus tells a parable about a judge who shows little concern for justice in the case of a widow who it seems is being harassed.
Normally within the Jewish community such disputes would be dealt with by arbitration before a panel of three judges but this woman is before a judge paid for and appointed by the Roman authorities and these men were known to be corrupt, so this widow was not in a good place. The judge resists her appeal for justice again and again but she persists and he finally relents but for the wrong reason: “For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”
Incidentally we are told that Beethoven had this parable in mind when composing the slow movement of his piano concerto No 4 where the orchestra represents the judge, loud, noisy and emphatic saying “No! no! no!” while the widow is represented by a solo instrument which gently pleads her case until the judge gives in.
Bishop John Moorman writes: “The judge is a symbol of power without responsibility. He is a thoroughly bad judge since he fears neither God nor man . . . he is proud of his power, his paganism, his fearlessness, his toughness, his strength. On the other hand, the widow is the embodiment of weakness. She has no man to protect her, no money to bribe the judge with, apparently no chance for ever of gaining her suit. Yet in the end she wins, and weakness prevails over strength.”
Jesus tells this story while urging his disciples to pray and not to give up, whatever the odds. At the heart of the Christian gospel lies the conviction that what looks like weakness is strength, what looks like suffering is joy, what looks like death is life. But the victory cannot be won without faith. The persistence of the widow was the product of her faith, faith in the justice of her cause, faith in the power of perseverance.
We live in testing times for people of faith when some find it difficult to face the future with confidence. But it was always thus, as we can see from the writings of Paul and others in the New Testament where Christians are regularly encouraged not to lose hope because our faith is in the God who can always be trusted: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
That is especially important for those for whom justice may seem afar off.