Ruskin greatly influenced Gandhi through 4 essays about justice, titled as a group “Unto This Last.” “This Last” refers to what Jesus called “the least of these my brothers and sisters” – fellow humans, “neighbors.”
Justice is always social justice. It deals with relationships within society. It does not mean vengeance, nor punishment, except perhaps in a small minority of cases. It has to do with what is just, or right, or fair, or fitting – all day and everywhere – for the humanity of the people involved – equally what is good and fair for the powerful and well-off, and for the lowly.
Ruskin emphasizes the very great value of such justice, a matter of great interest to Gandhi – and to Jesus. He argues that all through the years justice is the one thing that even the best people don’t want to think or hear about. He writes:
The mistake of the best men through generation after generation,
has been that great one of thinking to help the poor by
and by preaching of patience or of hope,
and by every other means, emollient or consolatory,
except the one thing which God orders for them, justice.
I fear he has been mostly right about that. Justice is something few want to hear about in any detail. In fact, he says they hate it – “the mass of men” hate it whenever it comes up – a very serious accusation against us all. Do you think it is true?
But this justice, with its accompanying holiness or helpfulness,
being even by the best men denied …
is by the mass of men hated wherever it appears.
Then he brings out the impact upon Jesus of his insisting on justice.
So that, when the choice was one day fairly put to them,
they denied the Helpful One and the Just;
and desired a murderer, sedition-raiser, and robber, to be granted to them; —
the murderer instead of the Lord of Life,
the sedition-raiser instead of the Prince of Peace,
and the robber instead of the Just Judge of all the world.
Folks, we flatter ourselves when we assume that OUR church, nation, political party, or social group, etc., would not have serious problems with “the Helpful One and the Just”. What if Jesus somehow was physically present among us again?
My groups, your groups, may be right about a lot of things. But if Jesus came with the kind of service and teaching he brought before, adjusted to our cultural and language settings, I bet it would burn, as if he brought fire, in some predictable but also in some unexpected places – as his cousin John predicted he would do. (Lk 3:16-18)
How do we, as individuals, groups, or nations, repent of the attitudes that hold us in such a place of hating what God loves?
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