Message: Mercy does not cancel out justice.
For Advent homilies I take this question: Are you missing out? Last Sunday we heard Jesus warning: that we might become so distracted we miss the most important events - the salvation God offers us.
This week we begin the Year of Mercy. I do not want you or me to miss God's mercy. Before talking about mercy, however, I want to address a hesitation: I fear some will conclude that mercy cancels justice: That those who commit crimes and deliberate cruelty will in the end get off scot-free. We all know that in this world there is little justice - that some people "get away with murder." Will that unfairness continue into the next world? If that's the case, many people say, I want no part of it. I agree with them.
Let me give three examples.
--One, Auschwitz. In preparation for World Youth Day, I have been reading about the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Can those who carried out those crimes take a place next to their victims - with no reckoning?
--Two, domestic cruelty. We see cruelty not only on a huge scale like Auschwitz or the Gulag Archipelago, but in our families: cruel words and acts, some thoughtless, others deliberate.
--Three, police brutality. In another country police abused a friend of mine and they laughed about it. Such corruption is not our common experience here, but in other nations and throughout history, it has been the rule.
Will God simply sweep those abuses under the carpet? Will bullies have the last laugh? The Bible says "no"! Today John the Baptist speaks about God dealing with crooked ways and rough roads. Next week we will hear John describe a fan that separates wheat from chaff - the good part kept and the worthless part burned.
John does not invent the idea of divine justice. The prophets before him speak about a day of accounting. They know we cannot separate God's love from his justice. In today's first reading the prophet Baruch says that God will lead his people "with mercy and justice."
Pope Benedict stressed that mercy does not cancel out justice. "It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value." (Spes Salvi 44) We sometimes say "people are basically good," yet we know a terrorist - or a man who murders people at a Planned Parenthood clinic - is hardly the same as a food bank worker.
In the long run we cannot have mercy without justice. Justice, in fact, includes mercy. In Jerusalem, near the remnants of the Temple they have poor box. They did not write on it "charity" but "justice."* Justice means to restore right relationships. We need justice before we can talk about mercy.
So where does that leave us? You and I have have acted unfairly. Only a narcissist says, "I've never wronged anyone!" No, deep down we all long for mercy - even more than justice. That's why St. Paul says to leave justice to God - and get busy seeking forgiveness, reconciliation. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
A person who reflects on his life will thirst for mercy. We have seen that mercy does not cancel out justice. The two go together, although mercy has greatest importance. The Bible mentions mercy 416 times - and justice 157 times. Between mercy and justice there is word mentioned over 200 times. We will hear it next week. Don't miss out.
For today, let's remember that, in the Bible, mercy does not cancel justice. No, justice and mercy go hand in hand. As the prophet say: God leads us "by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company. Amen.
*source: Fire Starters by Richard J. Sklba
Plan for this series:
From Archives (Homily for Second Sunday of Advent, Year C):
Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
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