11 March, 2019

Equality means equal concern and respect across difference. It does not pre-suppose the elimination or suppression of difference…. but an acknowledgment and acceptance of difference.

~ Albie Sachs, retired Justice of the South African Constitutional Court ~

For those of over-pious disposition, or who imagine that only their religious tradition will be ‘saved’, Jesus’ words about separating the sheep from the goats on Judgement Day (Matthew 25:31-46) must come as a shock. We are not saved primarily by our belief in the ‘right’ god (indeed in any deity), nor by our strict adherence to correct doctrine, or moral teaching, but by how we treat those who are marginalised. Theologies that speak of justice – Catholic Social Thought, the Protestant Social Gospel, Liberation, Black and Feminist theologies, and the justice traditions in all great faiths – bear witness to this as well, sometimes from the heart and sometimes from the prophetic margins of faith.

In South Africa these last twenty-five years the Constitutional Court has also stood out, a beacon on Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill, as a secular defence of values, often in the face of resistance from those who would deny the rights of the marginalised. For the most part the Court has resisted the temptation to easy solutions that benefit the powerful or to the popular judgments that pander to unreflective prejudices of majorities, but tried instead to seek the common good. In a sense the Constitution and Bill of Rights are our secular Sermon on the Mount, calling us citizens to reflect on the degree to which the law and our practice protects everyone and takes special note of the needs of the marginalised. It is not a text that favours anyone – it certainly does not give any religion special favour. What it does seek to do is protect those marginalised from unnecessary harm – and where it might disadvantage some individuals’ interests or beliefs it does this out of a desire for a greater good.

At its best, the Constitutional Court has delivered judgments that defend the rights of the poor and protects society as a whole from arbitrary rule and laws defending sectoral interests. The fact that it has aroused the anger of the ruling party and many groups (including the churches) is a measure perhaps of its even-handedness and effectiveness. Despite attempts to politically influence it, mainly through appointment procedures, it has managed to remain fairly neutral – and its popularity is perhaps a measure of its success.

 

Jesus,

may your

example in

today’s Gospel

remind us

of our duty

to do justice

and to pay

especial care

to those

on the margins

of society.

Amen.

 

Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ
B.A. (Hons), M.A. (UCT), B.A. (Hons) (London), M.Div., S.T.L. (Weston), Ph.D. (Wits)

Fr Anthony Egan SJ has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he currently teaches at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for Spotlight. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ
B.Bus.Sc., M.Com. (Rhodes), M.A. (London), B.Th. (CUEA), Th.M. (Toronto), S.T.L. (Regis)

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Matthew manages the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and is involved in the Spirituality work whilst completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course run by the Institute.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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