‘Mis­eri­cor­diae Vul­tus’

Business Mirror - - OPINION - Rev. Fr. An­to­nio Ce­cilio T. Pas­cual SER­VANT LEADER To know more about Car­i­tas Manila, visit www. car­i­tas­man­ila.org.ph. For your do­na­tions, please call our DonorCare lines 563-9311, 564- 0205, 09997943455, 0905-4285001 and 0929-8343857. Make it a habit t

Part Six

Note: To­day we con­tinue the re­print of Mis­eri­cor­diae Vul­tus— the Bull of In­dic­tion of the Ex­tra­or­di­nary Year of Mercy by His Ho­li­ness, Pope Fran­cis.

IT would not be out of place at this point to re­call the re­la­tion­ship be­tween jus­tice and mercy. Th­ese are not two con­tra­dic­tory re­al­i­ties, but two di­men­sions of a sin­gle re­al­ity that un­folds pro­gres­sively un­til it cul­mi­nates in the full­ness of love. Jus­tice is a fun­da­men­tal con­cept for civil so­ci­ety, which is meant to be gov­erned by the rule of law. Jus­tice is also un­der­stood as that which is rightly due to each in­di­vid­ual. In the Bi­ble, there are many ref­er­ences to di­vine jus­tice and to God as “judge.”

In th­ese pas­sages, jus­tice is un­der­stood as the full ob­ser­vance of the law and the be­hav­ior of ev­ery good Is­raelite in con­form­ity with God’s com­mand­ments. Such a vi­sion, how­ever, has not in­fre­quently led to le­gal­ism by dis­tort­ing the orig­i­nal mean­ing of jus­tice and ob­scur­ing its pro­found value. To over­come this le­gal­is­tic per­spec­tive, we need to re­call that in Sa­cred Scrip­ture, jus­tice is con­ceived es­sen­tially as the faith­ful aban­don­ment of one­self to God’s will.

For his part, Je­sus speaks sev­eral times of the im­por­tance of faith over and above the ob­ser­vance of the law. It is in this sense that we must un­der­stand His words when, re­clin­ing at ta­ble with Matthew and other tax col­lec­tors and sin­ners, He says to the Pharisees rais­ing ob­jec­tions to Him, “Go and learn the mean­ing of ‘I de­sire mercy not sac­ri­fice.’ I have come not to call the right­eous, but sin­ners” ( Matthew 9:13). Faced with a vi­sion of jus­tice as the mere ob­ser­vance of the law that judges peo­ple sim­ply by di­vid­ing them into two groups—the just and sin­ners—Je­sus is bent on re­veal­ing the great gift of mercy that searches out sin­ners and of­fers them par­don and sal­va­tion. One can see why, on the ba­sis of such a lib­er­at­ing vi­sion of mercy as a source of new life, Je­sus was re­jected by the Pharisees and the other teach­ers of the law. In an at­tempt to re­main faith­ful to the law, they merely placed bur­dens on the shoul­ders of oth­ers and un­der­mined the Father’s mercy. The ap­peal to a faith­ful ob­ser­vance of the law must not pre­vent at­ten­tion from be­ing given to mat­ters that touch upon the dig­nity of the per­son.

The ap­peal Je­sus makes to the text from the book of the prophet Hosea—“I de­sire love and not sac­ri­fice” ( 6:6)— is im­por­tant in this re­gard. Je­sus af­firms that, from that time on­ward, the rule of life for His dis­ci­ples must place mercy at the cen­ter, as Je­sus him­self demon­strated by shar­ing meals with sin­ners. Mercy, once again, is re­vealed as a fun­da­men­tal as­pect of Je­sus’ mis­sion. This is truly chal­leng­ing to his hear­ers, who would draw the line at a for­mal re­spect for the law. Je­sus, on the other hand, goes be­yond the law; the com­pany He keeps with those the law con­sid­ers sin­ners makes us re­al­ize the depth of His mercy.

The Apos­tle Paul makes a sim­i­lar jour­ney. Prior to meet­ing Je­sus on the road to Da­m­as­cus, he ded­i­cated his life to pur­su­ing the jus­tice of the law with zeal (cf. Philip­pi­ans 3:6). His con­ver­sion to Christ led him to turn that vi­sion up­side down, to the point that he would write to the Gala­tians: “We have be­lieved in Christ Je­sus, in or­der to be jus­ti­fied by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, be­cause by works of the law shall no one be jus­ti­fied” ( 2:16).

Paul’s un­der­stand­ing of jus­tice changes rad­i­cally. He now places faith first, not jus­tice. Sal­va­tion comes not through the ob­ser­vance of the law, but through faith in Je­sus Christ, who in His death and res­ur­rec­tion brings sal­va­tion to­gether with a mercy that jus­ti­fies. God’s jus­tice now be­comes the lib­er­at­ing force for those op­pressed by slav­ery to sin and its con­se­quences. God’s jus­tice is His mercy ( cf. Psalm 51:11-16).

Mercy is not op­posed to jus­tice but rather ex­presses God’s way of reach­ing out to the sin­ner, of­fer­ing him a new chance to look at him­self, con­vert and be­lieve. The ex­pe­ri­ence of the prophet Hosea can help us see the way in which mercy sur­passes jus­tice. The era in which the prophet lived was one of the most dra­matic in the his­tory of the Jewish peo­ple. The king­dom was tot­ter­ing on the edge of de­struc­tion; the peo­ple had not re­mained faith­ful to the covenant; they had wan­dered from God and lost the faith of their fore­fa­thers. Ac­cord­ing to hu­man logic, it seems rea­son­able for God to think of re­ject­ing an un­faith­ful peo­ple; they had not ob­served their pact with God and, there­fore, de­served just pun­ish­ment: in other words, ex­ile. The prophet’s words at­test to this:“They shall not re­turn to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, be­cause they have re­fused to re­turn to me” ( Hosea 11:5). And yet, af­ter this in­vo­ca­tion of jus­tice, the prophet rad­i­cally changes his speech and re­veals the true face of God: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Is­rael! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Ze­boiim! My heart re­coils within me, my com­pas­sion grows warm and ten­der. I will not ex­e­cute my fierce anger, I will not again de­stroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to de­stroy” ( 11:8-9). Saint Au­gus­tine, al­most as if he were com­ment­ing on th­ese words of the prophet, says: “It is eas­ier for God to hold back anger than mercy.” And so it is. God’s anger lasts but a mo­ment, his mercy for­ever.

If God lim­ited Him­self to only jus­tice, He would cease to be God, and would in­stead be like hu­man be­ings who ask merely that the law be re­spected. But mere jus­tice is not enough. Ex­pe­ri­ence shows that an ap­peal to jus­tice alone will re­sult in its de­struc­tion. This is why God goes be­yond jus­tice with His mercy and for­give­ness. Yet, this does not mean that jus­tice should be de­val­ued or ren­dered su­per­flu­ous. On the con­trary: any­one who makes a mis­take must pay the price. How­ever, this is just the be­gin­ning of con­ver­sion, not its end, be­cause one be­gins to feel the ten­der­ness and mercy of God. God does not deny jus­tice. He rather en­velopes it and sur­passes it with an even greater event in which we ex­pe­ri­ence love as the foun­da­tion of true jus­tice. We must pay close at­ten­tion to what Saint Paul says if we want to avoid mak­ing the same mis­take for which he re­proaches the Jews of his time: “For, be­ing ig­no­rant of the right­eous­ness that comes from God, and seek­ing to es­tab­lish their own, they did not sub­mit to God’s right­eous­ness. For Christ is the end of the law, that ev­ery one who has faith may be jus­ti­fied” ( Ro­mans 10:34). God’s jus­tice is his mercy given to ev­ery­one as a grace that flows from the death and res­ur­rec­tion of Je­sus Christ. Thus, the Cross of Christ is God’s judg­ment on all of us and on the whole world, be­cause through it He of­fers us the cer­ti­tude of love and new life.

We will con­tinue with Mis­eri­cor­diae Vul­tus next week.

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