At our last Justice & Witness Ministry meeting, each person listed the areas of justice where he or she felt special passion. The list was long and varied: racism, child abuse, sexual and gender-diverse marriage, hunger, homelessness, human trafficking, hate crimes, Jubilee, legacies of empire in the Philippines, Haiti, environmental survival.
Varied as the passions were, they had a common theme of oppression. A set of people is deprived of life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness so that the oppressor may have these in excess. More than marketplace success or greed, oppression is a system of enrichment akin to the Devil’s offer to Jesus on the mountaintop, “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor,” in exchange for blind worship.
And that was no empty offer; Jesus really could have had all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. The Devil always delivers.
What rich rewards are delivered through oppression! Empires of wealth. Ships groaning with gold and all the riches of Asia. Cheap immigrant and slave labor to till the fields and mine the earth. Land stretching from sea to shining sea, grabbed from “savages.” Cotton, coal, copper. Clothes, computers, cabbages. All for the taking, without question. The Devil always delivers.
As we know, however, the Devil is a trickster. Not so benevolent as Coyote, the Devil puts rich temptations before us in gleaming abundance, lit by the gleam in the Devil’s eye. The Devil always delivers a little bit more…and it’s that evil “bit more” that bedevils our souls.
In the medieval Everyman plays, the Devil tempts Everyman with a shiny golden ball. Everyman yearns for that golden ball, but he doesn’t want to give up his soul. Back and forth he anguishes between desire and devotion. When, at last, Everyman gives in and agrees to the deal, he seizes the ball, and it crumbles into a center filled with foul dust. Bedazzled by golden gleams, Everyman fails to see the foul “bit more” he has been given until it is too late. He has not really lost his soul–he simply cannot see it in those foul clouds of dust.
And so it is with oppression. We have not lost our souls to oppression–we simply cannot see them in the foul clouds blinding oppressor and oppressed alike. Bedazzled by the gleam of oppression’s rewards and the flames of its punishments, we are dust blinded, unable to see our shimmering, mysterious, metaphorical God in our fellow creatures, our precious Earth, our shining stars and radiant Sun, and we grope in our blindness toward the edge of the Abyss.
How can we ever see our souls again? How, in the name of justice, can we clear away the clouds of oppression and exchange the false rewards of the Devil for the true rewards of our mystery-filled metaphor God? Like Everyman, we use our other senses.
We use our ears, don’t we? We listen, straining to hear the still, small voice of the still-speaking God in the music of the spheres, a sweetly sung promise of hope and redemption. In the beginning was the Word… and the darkness comprehended it not.
We use our hands. We reach out into the dark unknown, hoping against our primal fear of that unknown to find someone reaching out to us, too. And, in the sure promise of God, we do.