January 27, 2008  

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate

Intramuros, Manila  

THEME: God’s Word: Source of Justice, Reconciliation and Peace

Scripture Texts: (Micah 6:8; 2Cor. 5:17-20) 

)Dear brothers and sisters, 

The verse of Micah 6:8 is one of the loftiest passages in the Bible: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to walk humbly with your God”. The people ask the Prophet Micah how they can atone for their sins. Do they come before Yahweh with “burnt offerings” and “calves,” “thousands of rams,” “ten thousand rivers of oil,” and the “sacrifice of their first-born?” The prophet’s answer is that God’s demand is not for more and more offerings but for the doing of justice, the pursuit of kindness or steadfast love for our brothers and sisters and the exercise of humble piety before the Lord.  

Hence, God demands first of all MORALITY from human persons in the practice of religion. In his reply Micah provides a perfect summary of the teaching of the great 8th century prophets: Amos on justice and righteousness, Hosea on steadfast love, and Isaiah on faith and obedience. More over this verse gives classic statement also to the priestly teaching in the Old Testament regarding the “whole duty of man” as found in the Psalms (e.g. Ps 24:3-6; 40:6-8; 50:7-15). This passage is not a rejection of liturgical rites and ceremonies in favor of the in tangible virtue of character. What it teaches clearly is that God has a total claim over the whole of man’s life, touching on his moral relationship with Him and his fellow human beings. Hence, no amount of external offerings or elaborate rites, however great and splendid, can replace man’s essential duty and obligation to do what is right and just for his fellow human beings, to love them with great tenderness and to live in union with God in true humility and the spirit of obedience to all His commands. 

Should one ask what is the criterion or norm for such a life of justice, love, humility and obedience, the prophet Micah has already pointed to it with the reminder: “You have been told, O man, what is good,” that is, God’s saving acts, recited previously, are precisely the standard for the human being, who has faith in Him, the true God. What God himself has done provides the inspiration for human justice, fidelity and man’s whole walk in life. In the Bible the “indicative mood” gives rise to the “imperative mood,” meaning, what God has done suggests what men and women ought to do. This classic verse of the Prophet Micah is a fine example of how God’s Word is really a source of “justice”, whose moral notion is very broad in the Bible, extending to the total observance of all God’s commandments, whose essence is love for Him and for our neighbor.

Our Christian country should be a model of justice as taught to us by the prophets. The fundamental element of justice is that it gives every person his/her due and what belongs to him/her by right. Sad to say, there is a glaring state of injustice in our nation where so many Filipinos remain oppressed, marginalized, destitute and deprived of their rights as human beings who are equal in dignity as children of God. Perhaps it can be said that the cause of injustice in our land could be the way we practice religion, which is not profound enough, not touching our hearts, consisting only in the observance of external rites.

This is what the prophets and our Lord Jesus precisely condemn. We do well to remind ourselves what God, through the verse quoted above, wants us to do if we have true faith in Him manifested by a genuine practice of religion. Only if we fulfill what God requires of us, marvelously summarized by Micah, can we eliminate injustice in our midst. Injustice, a situation where human persons are not given what is due to them, causes division, conflicts and even fratricide. The insurgency that has been going in our country for 38 years, the deep political rupture and the pervading economic inequality are among the signs that our country is in a situation of injustice. We have been longing for peace, the biblical “shalom”, which does not mean only the absence of war or trouble but the enjoyment of all what is good, a foreshadowing of the dawning of God’s kingdom. But peace cannot take place unless we are fully reconciled to God and to all our brothers and sisters.

Already within the Old Testament, God has prefigured the reconciliation of human beings with Himself in not ceasing to offer them His pardon. He is “the God of tenderness and of pity” (Ex. 34:6). But the perfect and definitive reconciliation has been accomplished by Jesus Christ, for it is an important aspect of Christ’s work of redemption. By Christ’s redemption we have be come a new creation, fully reconciled to God as St. Paul says: “So who ever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:17-20). 

On God’s part the entire work of salvation and reconciliation is already accomplished. However, reconciliation among human beings is far from being accomplished. Thus St. Paul defines apostolic activity as “the ministry of reconciliation”, which may last till the final coming of God’s kingdom. Following the example of St. Paul, Christians must ever be mindful of the “ministry of reconciliation”, making great efforts to be the architects of peace among all brothers and sisters, bringing them into full harmony with God through the redeeming act of Christ. The profound demand of this reconciliation is this: the sinner reconciled by God cannot render to Him a pleasing worship or sacrifice if he does not first of all reconcile himself with his fellow human beings (Mt. 5, 23 f). 

For our country to achieve peace or “shalom”, the elusive dream of our land, all Filipinos must learn how to reconcile with each other, forgiving one another from their hearts just as “God no longer takes account of the trespasses of men” (cf. 2Cor. 5:20). But full reconciliation will take place only when we do what God re quires us: to do what is right, to show constant love and to walk humbly with Him. May Mary, “the mirror of justice”, intercede for us so that our country will finally enjoy the peace of all God’s children.  

Most Rev. Arturo M. Bastes, SVD DD

Bishop of Sorsogon

Episcopal Commission for the Biblical Apostolate

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines 



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