Meditation: Does mercy trump justice? Justice demands that everyone be given their due. So when is it right to show mercy or pardon to those who have acted unjustly or wrongly? The prophet Amos speaks of God forgiving transgression three times, but warns that God may not revoke punishment for the fourth (see Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6). When Peter posed the question of forgiveness, he characteristically offered an answer he thought Jesus would be pleased with. Why not forgive seven times! How unthinkable for Jesus to counter with the proposition that one must forgive seventy times that. Jesus made it clear that there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness. And he drove the lesson home with a parable about two very different kinds of debts. The first man owed an enormous sum of money – millions in our currency. In Jesus' time this amount was greater than the total revenue of a province – more than it would cost to ransom a king! The man who was forgiven such an incredible debt could not, however bring himself to forgive his neighbor a very small debt which was about one-hundred-thousandth of his own debt.
The contrast could not have been greater! No offence our neighbor can do to us can compare with our debt to God! We have been forgiven a debt which is beyond all paying; to ransom our debt of sin God gave up his only begotten Son. Paul the Apostle states, "you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 7:23 ) and that price was Jesus' death on the cross. Through the shedding of his blood on the cross, Jesus not only brought forgiveness and pardon for our offenses, but release from captivity – from bondage and slavery to sin. Christ came to redeem us from a sinful way of life. "You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers ...with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18). Christ "gave himself to redeem us from all iniquity" (Titus 2:14). Iniquity describes the futile ways of wrongdoing or sin. We have been forgiven an enormous debt which we could never possibly repay. God expects us to treat one another the same way he treats us. If God has forgiven each of us our debt, which was very great, we, too must forgive others whatever debt they owe us.
Jesus teaches that one must forgive in order to be forgiven (Matthew 6:12,14-15). If we do not forgive our fellow human beings, we cannot expect God to forgive us in turn. The Apostle James says that "judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy" (James 2:13). Mercy is truly a gift and it is offered in such a way that justice is not negated. Mercy seasons justice as salt seasons meat and gives it flavor. Mercy follows justice and perfects it. To pardon the unrepentant is not mercy but license. C.S. Lewis, a 20th century Christian author wrote: "Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety." If we want mercy shown to us we must be ready to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Do you hold any grudge or resentment towards anyone?
"Lord Jesus, you have been kind and forgiving towards me. May I be merciful as you are merciful. Free me from all bitterness and resentment that I may truly forgive from the heart those who have caused me injury or grief."
This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/