By: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans
“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers.”—Proverbs 21:15
“And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?”—Luke 18:7
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.”—Luke 11:42
I didn’t understand what justice was. I always thought it meant the righting of a wrong, but it means more than that. It means giving a person their due, whether that due is positive or negative. St. Thomas Aquinas defined justice as “a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will.”
Dr. Tom Neal says that through reparation, which is a restorative justice, we repair the wound inflicted against justice by evils done. CCC #2487 says, “Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation.”
But, how do we repair? By uniting our prayers, works and sufferings to those of Jesus.
“Our solidarity in grace with Christ’s Mystical Body enables us to extend the reparative work of Christ’s atoning Pasch,” Dr. Neal said. “We ‘fill up those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body the Church.’(Col 1:24)
And who do we repair? We offer reparation “for ourselves first, always,” Dr. Neal said, and then offer reparation for the sins of others.
Why do we repair? Like in any good relationship, when we injure the other, we want to get right. Our love of God will make us want to make reparations for ourselves, our enemies, our friends…anyone that God loves, which is everybody. Also, taking the time to make reparation helps us to understand the gravity of sin. Let’s say that for each venial sin we commit we’d assign ourselves one minute in adoration on our knees, on the chapel floor. Meanwhile each mortal sin would give us five minutes. The result: we’d train ourselves to sin less and, as a bonus, be spending extra time with Jesus.
God, as expected, gives each one of us justice, but thankfully, he also gives us mercy. Mercy is more than what we’re due. Mercy and justice may seem to cancel each other out, but like St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution” and “justice without mercy is cruelty.” For the former, the wicked are allowed to go unpunished, and for the latter, they are punished with brutality.
In Psalm 109 we see the aforementioned cruelty as King David wishes ill upon his enemy. Verses 9 and 10: “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit!”
Johnny Cash and King David would have gotten along. In the 2003 song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” Cash doesn’t shock us with wishes for merciless acts, as the song is filled with admonitions of proper, God-given justice. But, his voice tells a different story. It’s gravelly and mighty mean.
Recorded the year he died, in the song Cash sings, “You can run on for a long time…sooner or later gotta cut you down.” Downright scary. Because Cash was known to run. A drug and alcohol addict, he was arrested seven times. And God’s justice sounds real believable coming from a hardened fellow with such an urgent message. He sounds like a man who’s made peace with God…but not with you.
Outside of his songs, Cash was also known to fight for justice. And in doing so, he called for mercy. Cash advocated for the fair treatment of Native Americans, and in 1964 he released a concept album of songs about Indigenous Americans. In the single “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” Cash tells of the plight of Pima Indian Hayes, who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima but was later rejected by Caucasians and his own people. He later died of alcoholism. After radio stations refused to play the single, Cash took out a full-page ad in Billboard Magazine, wherein he asked: “DJs, station managers, owners, etc., where are your guts?”
Cash was also famous for wearing an all-black wardrobe as a symbol of his solidarity with the poor, hungry, imprisoned, and addicted. Probably because at some point in his life, he had been one or the other. He grew up on an Arkansas farm, working by the age of 5 for his poor family. At the apex of his career, in which he sold more than 90 million records and landed in the Country, Rock, and Gospel Halls of Fame, he was dependent on amphetamines and barbiturates.
Merriam-Webster defines duplicity as “contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action.” There may be no other word that captures Cash’s life so well. He was often in the middle of a tug-of-war between vice and virtue. Now, normally when the word “duplicity” is used, a sort of intentioned deception is assumed. But, this wasn’t the case with Cash. His sins and contradictions were not hidden.
Cash publicly said, “I’m the greatest sinner of them all.” He also said, “I’m trying, despite my many faults and my continuing attraction to all seven deadly sins, to treat my fellow man as Christ would.”
Born a Southern Baptist, Cash recorded Gospel albums, performed at Billy Graham crusades, wrote a novel about St. Paul, and penned a song titled, “One of These Days I’m Gonna Sit Down And Talk To Paul.” Cash even released a spoken word recording of the entire New King James version of the New Testament.
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is a traditional tune that has no known author. It’s been recorded under the title of “Run On” by Odetta, Elvis Presley, and Moby, but Cash’s new title, along with an earthy stomp and clap, brings more fire-and-brimstone to the song.
Let’s look at some of the lyrics.
I’ve been down on bended knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said “John, go do My will!”
Could the John mentioned be not Cash but the author of the Book of Revelation, who was transmitted prophecy by the angel of Jesus?
Well, you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light
The last line of this stanza is a quote from Luke 8:17. It and the second line also refer to Isaiah 29:15: “Ha! You who hide a plan too deep for the Lord, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’”
Like the song as a whole, the stanza is a warning to sinners that no matter how hard they try, they will not avoid God’s judgment. Their only option is to repent and seek out justice and mercy for others.
About the Author: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans
Jason is a seminarian in Second Pre-Theology.
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