Saint Jerome, a 4th-century priest, said:

“Someone may ask, ‘How is justice greater than all the other virtues?’ The other virtues gratify the one who possesses them; justice does not give pleasure to the one possessing it, but instead pleases others.”

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Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Luke 18:9-14

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What does justice look like? For many people, the classical image of a blindfolded woman, sword in one hand and a scale in the other, comes to mind. It’s an image older than the Christian Bible. The Roman goddess Iustitia (Justice) was introduced during the reign of Emperor Augustus (63BCE - 14CE).

The scales are supposed to represent fairness. There’s just one problem with this: every time one side of the scale rises, the other falls. I can only win if someone else loses. I am only right if someone else is wrong. This is the logic that the Pharisee uses in our reading today: I am so great, because everyone around me is so awful. Yay, me!

But what if justice isn’t about winning and losing? Jesus’ parable tells a different story – one where the scales are flipped – perhaps even broken. True justice begins with seeing ourselves for who we really are, and letting God see it too.

Heidi Thorsen Oxford

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God, show mercy to me, a sinner. Help me to remember that my worth is not dependent on how much better or worse I am than others, and instead help me to see myself as you see me – holy and complicated, a work in progress. Amen.

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The present form of the world passes away, and there remains only the joy of having used this world to establish God’s rule here. All pomp, all triumphs, all selfish[ness] ... All of that passes away.

What does not pass away is love.

Saint Oscar Romero, bishop and martyr, from a 1979 homily

Heidi Thorsen Oxford

Heidi Thorsen Oxford is a hospital chaplain, the Outreach Coordinator for Chapel on Green, New Haven, and a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Things that bring her joy include: her husband, two cats, painting religious icons, and drinking tea.

Piano Sonata No. 14 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2

Garry Bailey

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