Anglican Parish of Gosford

Law and Justice

Earlier this week Police in Victoria arrested a pregnant 28-year-old woman in front of her partner and two children for planning an anti-lockdown protest in regional Victoria this weekend. Further arrests occurred at protests yesterday. In a statement, Victoria police said “any gathering of this nature is in blatant breach of the chief health officer’s directions and puts Victorian lives at risk”. How did we get ourselves into this mess? Was the woman wrong for encouraging people to meet during the pandemic? Yes of course she was. Are we as a society so messed up that a significant minority can buy into conspiracy theories, and even elect members of parliament who share these views? Apparently, the answer to that question is also Yes. Were the police just doing their jobs enforcing the law during a state of emergency? Yes, they were. Was it wise to enforce the law in the way they did, arresting a pregnant woman in front of her children? No it was not. The arrest of an individual in such circumstances is supposed to be a deterrent, it is supposed to send a message. But the use of law as a deterrent not only necessitates the suspension of justice, it rarely ever produces the desired effect. Besides, as a veteran protester I know that arrest is no deterrent, in fact it is a badge of honour and in reality, a tool for promoting your cause. But ultimately there has to be a better way to organise ourselves. This is not a new argument; it is as old as civilisation itself. St Paul writes: Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. When Paul writes these words, he is entering into the same difficult dynamic. It was an argument that had been raging in his particular era for over 100 years. You have often heard me talk about the debate between the two opposing rabbinic schools of Hillel and Shammai. For Paul there was an intensely personal connection to one side of this debate, and it is not the side that is usually assumed of Paul. Paul was a student of Gamaliel and Gamaliel was the grandson of the sage Hillel. Hillel taught that after loving God loving your neighbour was the greatest commandment, the fulfilment of the law. In one of the many news reports during the week documenting the breakdown of society and the rule of law in America, I caught a glimpse of a building’s façade, carved there were the words, “Where law ends, tyranny begins,” The words belong to British philosopher John Locke but they were made famous by British statesman William Pitt. Pitt used the quote in the context of the law limiting the power of leaders, thereby preventing them becoming tyrants. While that is entirely reasonable it is not the whole story. For without justice the law itself can become tyrannical. The law is most often about order, but order without justice is tyranny. For Paul of Tarsus, for William Pitt as for us, there is always the tension of order and justice, of law and love. The tension is a health one because when there is no tension, no balance; order gives way to chaos and justice gives way to tyranny. In today’s gospel Matthew suggests that when there is disorder our first response should not be to simply to impose order but to enquire into the cause of the disorder. To enter into contained conversation, reconciliation and process. Order at its most sustainable is a delicate balance of law, justice and love of neighbour. Order should only ever be imposed as a last resort in a state of emergency and then only until the balance can be restored. We are living in a state of emergency, not because of the virus, but because the world is out of balance. We can waste our time arguing about the rightness or wrongness of lockdowns or seeking to balance economic numbers with numbers of deaths, but we will be trying to reconcile the wrong things. Balance can only ever be restored when we reconcile with one another. And the journey back into that state of divine and blissful equilibrium begins with a simple choice. To “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Fr Rod