Emmanuel – God with us – calls us to a story of relationship, of love: a story of a common life together. The kind of justice that flows from this stems from a recognition of our shared humanity, a common good notion of justice.
The 'Year of Mercy' has just begun. Pope Francis wants to challenge indifference with mercy because it is indifference that enables injustice, and mercilessness, to persist. There is a certain mystery around the word 'mercy'. Perhaps it is about allowing ourselves to feel with another human person, to open ourselves to experience what they experience, including their suffering. Living out the implications of mercy makes demands on us and can be uncomfortable.
Mercy is a route to justice. Transactional and libertarian approaches to a fairer society have been found wanting in terms of building a common life. But the 'soft power' of mercy leads to transformation: it supports our practice of the common good. By creating human, bridging and bonding capital, by befriending and including the excluded in decision-making, we can re-humanise soulless systems and we will see more clearly where our energy needs to be.
This winter it is 30 years since Faith in the City and 50 years since the end of the Second Vatican Council, both of which advocated an outward-facing church that puts people first. Recently, Evangelii Gaudiumand Laudato Si’ from Pope Francis, and Who is my neighbour from the C of E bishops, challenge us to apply ourselves to a common good sense of justice and put the dignity of the human person, responsibility and relationships at the heart of everything we do.
What did Jesus do? The mystery of Christmas is the story of God with us – it is filled with clues about how the human family can live a common life together. As a refugee child, as a human person, and dying as an outcast, He shows us what remains after everything is stripped away – leaving, as Rowan Williams says ‘only the bare fact of indestructible love.'