We have become familiar enough with placards and posters proclaiming 'Justice for....', where some good cause is the subject of a campaign seeking a positive outcome.
More and more we hear talk in the West of our unjust society, of communities living side by side whose work and living circumstances are in stark contrast.
We have been driven by experience to see the fallacy of that oft-quoted statement from October 1987 by the then Prime Minister. "I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society.
Only too recently have individuals in our society had to rely on self-help whilst waiting for leadership and direction. It is inevitable that in any modern urban grouping, there will be those who have much and those who have little. The real challenge comes when some fortunate enough to be privileged fail to see the plight of their neighbours and selfishly pursue their own ends. 'I don't use the local hospital or send my children to the local school so why should I pay towards their upkeep?'. Put in those stark terms, it is selfishness indeed.
Yet unless all contribute to the Common Good, the very fabric of our society will show signs of stress; the need for those who work in the public sector begins to be felt only in their absence. It was the title of the 1996 document issued by the hierarchy under the chairmanship of Cardinal Hume that was widely noticed and has often been quoted.
Much of our political exchange talks of rights and responsibilities. As we attempt to increase our economic strength we still need to respect the rights of those on whose work our wealth is built. Questions of justice run through such discussions. We have only to remember the political struggle to establish a minimum wage and to examine the present exploitation of zero-hours contracts to realise that social balance is only obtained by the determined voice of many opposing the selfish interests of a few.
The symbol of Justice, so often associated with Court buildings, is that of a blind-folded woman with outstretched arms. She holds the pans of balance scales in one hand and a sword in the other. The scale pans represent her willingness to consider both sides of an argument, the sword her power to achieve justice and her blind-folded eyes, her impartiality.
It is imperative that justice is exercised in public, in order that anyone with an interest has the right to hear the argument and, through that hearing, appreciate the honesty of the judgement. One of the signs that a country is governed in a totalitarian manner is when there are attempts to interfere with the work of the courts. The work of Amnesty International in recent years has given voice to the many miscarriages of justice where those imprisoned can no longer speak for themselves. They have indeed been 'a voice crying in the wilderness'
It is no accident of language that the word 'Justice' is often associated with 'Peace', for they are closely related. Injustice leads to disquiet and disturbance; without evident awareness of justice, there can be no peace. Is there a Justice and Peace group in your Parish?
We only have to reflect on the racial injustice of the American South prior to the 1960s to realise the consequences of an unjust society. Speaking recently, the US Civil Rights leader, Jesse Jackson, now in his 70s, used the analogy of two seeds growing either side of a wall to describe disparity. While one grows and bears fruit, the other fails to develop. “It doesn’t mean the taller one is better, it means it has access to sunshine. When the walls come down they can both realise their potential. Walls lead to ignorance, and fear, hatred and violence. We must pull down those walls".
Wherever walls are built between peoples, there are those who benefit from the sunshine and those who are left in the dim light of shadow. it was true in Berlin, it is still true in Israel and, if the US president has his way, will be true on the Mexico-US border.
Justice comes at a price, an understanding of need and a selfless response. That is the essence of society, mutual support for each other, a duty of care for those whose voice is too weak to be heard.
'This is mine' has to have added to it 'but I will share it with you'