JUSTICE OR MERCY
We all want justice. We demand our rights. We want to get everything we deserve. We expect to receive what we are due. Until, of course, we are pulled over for doing 72 in a 55. Then we want all the mercy we can get! Actually, we usually want strict justice for others and compassionate mercy for ourselves. The premise of today’s readings is simple: Nobody deserves God’s mercy, but God grants it anyway and expects us to go and do likewise with one another.
The first reading from Sirach emphasizes a theme found throughout the Scriptures: As you do unto others, so it will be done unto you. If you forgive, you will be forgiven, but “the vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance.” This passage gives us three quick meditations to consider as reasons to avoid sin: 1) our “last days…death and decay”; 2) the commandments; 3) the Most High’s covenant. All three provide more than sufficient motivation for extending mercy to our neighbor.
This is a classic parable on forgiveness. Its message is stark and blunt. A servant who owes a “huge amount” is forgiven by his master. But then this same servant proceeds to throttle his fellow servant who owes him a very small debt. He exacts full justice on the co-worker, even having him imprisoned. This strikes all the other servants as “just plain wrong.” When the master hears the whole story, it does not go well with the forgiven but unforgiving servant. Note: the master ordered him to be handed over to “torturers” until his debt is paid. The lesson could not be more clear: unless we want the Lord to visit us with inscrutable justice and exact punishment for our offenses, we had better set about forgiving those who have offended us.
In our second reading, St. Paul is likewise stark and blunt. We are not our own. We don’t belong to ourselves. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Jesus died and rose, so he is Lord of both living and dead. This is a good reminder that we will have to stand before the Master and give an account of how we treated our fellow-servants.
MERCY WALKED IN
There is a gospel song that describes a person hauled into a courtroom, standing before the Judge, found guilty, and facing a sentence when “mercy walked in” and pleaded his case. Thanks be to God, who is “kind and merciful,” who puts our transgressions as far from us as east is from west (Responsorial Psalm). But today’s readings instruct us that a condition of receiving God’s mercy is extending mercy. As difficult as it might be to forgive a wrong done to me (or to someone I love), I’m sure it’s still a lot easier than having to pay in full for all the sins I have committed. We ask the Lord in today’s Collect that, “we may feel the working of your mercy, grant that we may serve you with all our heart.”