Sunday, October 30, 2011

Justice before mercy?

Reflections on a recent film elicit from Joseph Susanka these observations:
We often find ourselves thinking of justice and mercy as two sides of the same coin, fervently hoping that the coin "comes up Mercy" on the Day of Judgment. To paraphrase Hosea, it is mercy I desire, not justice. ....

Yet what can one possibly mean without the other? We must recognize the vast gulf between our actions and what we could and should have done, before God can offer mercy.

In the Gospel, the prodigal son not only recognized his great folly; he asked his father to deal with him justly: "I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would your servants..." Yet it was his very desire for justice that permitted the father to show his son such profound mercy.

How can God forgive someone who does not recognize their own need for forgiveness? Sure, a "debt" could be paid, but what would that payment mean if there was no spiritual transformation to accompany it? We must be transformed if we are to be perfected, yet there is no transformation without recognition and acceptance of our own personal, insurmountable failings.

And there is no way to recognize those failings without first embracing Justice.

Shakespeare says that humans are most like God "when mercy seasons justice," and perhaps he's right. But we are most dear to Him when our desire for justice seasons our desperate pleas for mercy.

For it is only once we want Justice that we can truly get Mercy. [more]
It is not, I hope, necessary to "want" justice in order to receive mercy. I hope it is sufficient to confess that we deserve it.
"Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa"
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen [BCP]
No Justice; No Mercy!