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Justice and Mercy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 23 March 2010 12:57
I learned in seminary that in God, justice and mercy meet; that is, God's justice is merciful and His mercy is just.  The readings from yesterday's Mass got me thinking about this a bit.  The first reading was the story of the untrue accusation of adultery of the young, beautiful Susannah by a couple of elderly lechers when she refuses to submit to their sexual advances.  She is unjustly sentenced to death according to the Mosaic law, but is rescued by the insightful cross-examination of the accusers by the young Daniel.  In the end, Susannah is acquitted and the two elders given the same sentence that they had conspired for her to receive.  On a human level, we are very satisfied with this situation.  It's replayed in a multitude of ways in our popular stories and films.  We wait for the evil adversary to be conquered by the hero and leave the story feeling that all's right in the world.

But in yesterday's Gospel, Jesus is put on trial by the scribes and Pharisees who ask him what should be done with a woman who is caught "in the very act" of adultery.  Apparently, they suspected or hoped that he might somehow forgive her, and thus break the command of Moses in Deuteronomy 22:22, "If a man is discovered having relations with a woman who is married to another, both the man and the woman with whom he has had relations shall die. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst." One wonders how the man escaped, or why the accusers didn't bring him, as well, but that's another post.

Jesus' famous response, "Let him without sin cast the first stone," is quite different from the "happy endings" we crave.  His mercy not only let's her off the hook completely, but causes the accusers to reflect upon their own behavior and recognize their own need for God's mercy.  If the incident doesn't bother us too much, then try substituting "a woman caught in adultery" with "a murderer." or "child molester," or "general guilty of war crimes," or whatever type of person you wouldn't want to receive mercy.

Of course, Jesus tells her to go and not sin again.  This demonstrates that God is not so concerned with our past as He is our present and our future.  This is why after confession and penance we should forget that which God has forgiven, learn from our experience, and ask for His help in avoiding the sin in the future.

As disciples of Jesus, we should learn from His example, as difficult and unsatisfying as it may be to our sense of justice.  But who among us wouldn't want to receive that same mercy as the woman caught in adultery?
 

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