So I say to you “I’ll give you $50 to wash and wax my car.” And you say, “Deal”. You finish the job but, contrary to our agreement, I only give you $30. “Hey, you owe me $20!” you cry. “I changed my mind”, I say, “and be- sides, you used my bucket and soap!”
Besides never washing my car again, you’ll continue to remind me that I owe you 20 bucks. Why? Because we made a deal, recognized by law. I was legally obliged to pay you $50 for services rendered (in a larger case you’d take me to small claims court).
So knowing you’d probably tell everyone in Webster that I’d stiffed you, I finally decide to pay you the full amount. Our friendship will still need repair but at least JUSTICE IS SERVED. Justice is giving to another what they deserve or have a “right” to.
We get the idea sometime that justice is the highest form of human relationship . . . to give everyone what they deserve makes for a happy well ordered society. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. But in the Christian perspective justice is the MINIMUM that is expected of us. It’s no big deal to be “just”.
We are called to a higher level of relationship. We are to be a people of Mercy. Webster’s dictionary defines mercy as “kindness in excess of what is deserved or demanded by fairness”.
We see it everywhere in the Gospels. Jesus tells us:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.” Mt. 5:44
“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” Lk. 23:34
“If someone asks for your coat give them your shirt as well, to walk a mile, walk with them for two miles.” Lk. 6:27
The father put the gold ring and royal cloak on his wastrel son because “He was lost but now he is found.”
The laborers received a full day’s wage for just one hour’s work. Mt. 20:8
And St. Paul marvels at the mercy of God when he declares “that while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us.” Rm. 5:5
Think back. When have you received mercy? Here are some examples.
- You totaled the family car with a careless turn into a tree. Your father’s first words are, “are you alright? That’s all that matters.”
- You were caught cheating on an exam. University rules call for your expulsion. The professor arranges for you to take a different exam under his supervision.
- Your “job performance review” was terrible. Your boss tells you not to be discouraged, he says he’ll work with you. He says he thinks you’ve got the “right stuff”.
- You went to confession and told the same sin you’ve committed 100’s of times before. You feel like a total failure. You feel like you’ll never be the person God wants you to be. The priest tells you, “God is using this weakness to grow the beautiful flower of humility deep in your heart. How beautiful you are to God!”
- Your wife tells you in tears, that no matter how hard it is sometimes to live with you . . . she will never stop loving you.
- You’ve said a terrible thing about someone quite close to you. You would cut your arm off if you could just take back those words. Your friend/sibling says, “I forgive you. But please don’t talk to me like that again.” You burst into tears. You’ve just received that precious gem . . . mercy.
We are called to acknowledge God’s mercy in our own lives (the countless times I’ve received more from life and God than I ever deserved). And in the joy of the Resurrection we have the grace to offer mercy to those who have offended us in some way.
It’s Labor Day already. Oh dear.