I find it easier to remove oppression from my midst with a vote than with a tough conversation.
I voted for a measure to fund low-income housing to help end the homelessness crisis, and helped organize our parish to support this measure as well. I did my part to remove oppression in the midst of Los Angeles, but nearly every day I walk between the tents under a bridge between my house and my parish, and I struggle to make eye contact with the people living there.
Where, dear prophet Isaiah, is my “midst?” If it’s right before me, I haven’t removed much.
People of faith with a passion for social change have standardized a distinction between charity and justice, usually highlighting the former’s insufficiency at effecting real change. We seek justice by reforming systems that afflict people on large scales. We want to remove oppression, lies, slander, and affliction from the midst of our world. But to seek justice, we need charity. Charity isn’t just direct service, it’s the animating force of care and generosity toward persons, the people in our midst who suffer, the people who make up the very systems that oppress others.
The gospel doesn’t record Jesus speaking of charity or justice in opposition—he saw Levi in his midst, a Jewish man with a priest’s name (the Levites were priests) but who aided the oppression of his people through imperial taxes. He saw a man caught up in a system, but who must have wanted something desperately different. Jesus’ ensuing invitation led to an inclusive, and awkwardly confrontational table fellowship. He removed the oppression from his midst by repairing the breach between those around him. To remove oppression from the midst of our world, I must be able to see, with charity, the person in my midst.
- Where, like the author, are you challenged to find your “midst,” to encounter the real people who suffer from oppression, or who “make up the very systems that oppress others?”
Fr. Justin Claravall, S.J., is an associate pastor at Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, CA. During his Jesuit life, he has taught religion in prisons and high schools, and gas led faith sharing groups for teenagers and young adults. He currently accompanies his parish’s Ecclesial Base Communities and social justice committee, and tries to make time for more art.