top of page

Learn to Do Good

Isaiah 1:17

On the morning of July 23, 1993, a profound and heart-wrenching tragedy unfolded in Brazil, shaking the nation to its core. This event, which made worldwide headlines and deeply challenged prevailing notions of justice, took place in downtown Rio, at the historic Candelária Church. This Roman Catholic church, dating back to 1775, had long been a beacon of hope and a place of refuge for the city's unhoused population. However, on that fateful night, the church's steps, which usually offered safe haven to unhoused minors, became the scene of an appalling act of violence. Over seventy individuals, seeking shelter on those steps were suddenly confronted by a convoy of vehicles carrying more than fifty police officers. In what was reportedly a response to previous stone-throwing incidents, the officers brutally opened fire on the unsuspecting crowd. Tragically, this senseless act resulted in the deaths of eleven young people, ranging in age from 11 to 19. In a city that had done very little to care for children, the poor, and the unhouse, a chorus of voices rose after the incident, calling for justice to be served. This call to justice transcended social, ethnic, and religious boundaries, offering a glimpse of hope for those who for too long had been ignored and felt unseen. But in the face of such senseless brutality, what is justice?

When we talk about justice, we may hear the words of the prophet Amos echoing in our minds saying, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Or words from the Prophet Isaiah saying, “Learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” Or perhaps the Prophet Hosea, who spoke the words of God, saying, “But as for you, return to your God; hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God.”

But to look at justice solely through the lens of external action is to greatly limit the biblical concept of justice itself. Justice, from a biblical perspective, encompasses a very broad spectrum of life, including personal and social dimensions, public and private spheres, political and religious domains, and interactions involving both human and non-human elements. The core of our Christian understanding of justice is that justice comes from the very nature of God, and it is what God demands of those who follow him.

In our modern world, it is possible that we may have an uneasy relationship with the Old Testament, its language of justice, and notions of law. Many of us have been witnesses of uninformed application of biblical mandates in current society—mandates that too often are distorted to comply with personal notions of morality while ignoring the fact that the Hebrew Scriptures transport us into an ancient time with practices that are well beyond much of our comprehension. But still, the perennial invitation of the Scriptures is for us to wrestle with these texts that challenge us, explore their meaning, and grow in our faith. 

We cannot ignore the reality of the scriptures, but neither can we blindly apply them to as if the realities of the world and our relationship with God is the same as those who originally received this message.

It is important to note that our Christian Bible opens with the books of law—books that our Jewship siblings regard as the most sacred among all the writings of the Hebrew Bible. And while we often associate the word Torah with Law, Torah simply means “instruction.” Those who had lived in bondage received new guidelines on how to relate to the One who created them, how to treat one another, how to care for the stranger in the midst, how to care for the world, and how to lead lives that witness that the people of Israel served a God who is above all others. This is not a small task, and those of us who stand at a distance from these narratives still have much to learn from them.

In the opening chapters of Genesis, we encounter the tragic story of Cain and Abel. Two brothers who presented sacrifices before the LORD, but only one was accepted. In anger, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. God spoke to Cain and inquired of his brother’s whereabouts, but Cain answered “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” We could look at the story of Cain and Able like any story of tragic violence. As an individual who, for reasons unknown, chose to take action against another. But the story of Cain and Abel extends far beyond a mere account of personal violence. It is a narrative steeped in lessons about responsibility, kinship, and the broader implications of our actions. The question posed by Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” echoes through the ages, resonating profoundly with the tragic event at Candelária Church. It confronts us with the perennial challenge of justice: our collective responsibility towards each other, especially the vulnerable and marginalized.

God’s journey with humanity is a reflection of this truth: God’s continued accountable relationship with Cain, promise to Abraham, deliverance from slavery in Egypt, journey through the wilderness, entrance into the promise land, exile, the life and ministry of Jesus… all witnesses to God’s care for those who suffer and desire for a reality that reflects not our propensity to sin, but original goodness breathed into all of us. 

We may struggle with the law, because we do not understand its tru purpose… The giving of the Law was designed to offer a people who had spent generations in bondage how to live free.

The tragedy at Candelária is not just a tale of individual wrongdoing; it reflects systemic issues – societal neglect, institutional failure, and a disregard for the sanctity of human life. It reminds us that justice in the biblical sense is not confined to individual acts, but encompasses the societal and systemic dimensions of our existence. It is about creating communities where every person, especially the least among us, is valued and protected.

This broader concept of justice is foundational to our understanding as Christians. The biblical narrative, from Genesis through the Torah and the Prophets, consistently calls us to a higher standard of communal living. It’s a call to establish societies where the rights and dignity of every individual are upheld, where the needs of the poor and the oppressed are addressed, and where the care for creation is integral to our way of life.

In the wake of human suffering and tragedy, we are compelled to ask ourselves: How are we responding to the cries of the vulnerable in our midst? Are we, like Cain, evading our responsibility with indifference, or are we actively seeking to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers? The Good News of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ calls us to be agents of change, to be voices for the voiceless, and to embody the love and justice of Christ in our communities.

While too often we hear words from the Old Testament as warning and comndeation 

As we reflect on the events of that fateful night in Rio, let us be challenged to re-examine our understanding of justice. Let us be driven to action, not only in addressing the symptoms of injustice but in tackling the root causes – be it poverty, inequality, or discrimination. Our faith calls us to be more than mere spectators; it calls us to be active participants in God’s work of restoring all creation.

In this Lenten season, as we journey with Jesus to the cross, let us remember that the path of Christ is one of radical love and justice. It's a path that challenges the status quo, uplifts the downtrodden, and brings hope to the despairing. As followers of Christ, we are called to walk this path, to be instruments of God’s justice in a broken world.

May our hearts be stirred, our spirits awakened, and our actions aligned with the divine call for justice and righteousness. Let us pray, work, and hope for a world where tragedies like the Candelária massacre are no more, and where God’s justice and peace reign supreme.

Discipleship Guide - Furtado
Download PDF • 43KB

30 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page