Justice Tempered with Mercy
3rd Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Jeremiah R. Grosse
Reproduced with Permission

Several years ago when I started teaching my class entitled Introduction to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, one of the assignments I gave my ninth grade students was to ask their parents to name three Bible stories which they could remember off the top of their head. The students were to write down the answers and the next day they gave us the responses in class.

The top three answers were, Adam and Eve, the Burning Bush, and Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. I suspect that the last two were based more upon Cecil B. DeMille’s movie than the Bible, but the stories are there.

This morning’s first reading from the Book of Exodus deals with Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God. God tells Moses that He is a jealous God and that He will inflict punishment on the children of those who hate Him to the third and fourth generation, but He will bestow mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love Him.

The prophet Joel tells that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. When asked what the Lord requires for praising and offering, the Prophet Micah tells us to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”.

Even something as potentially overwhelming as canon law is guided by mercy. The two principles which guide all of canon law are canonical equity and Canon #1752, the last of the canons. Canonical equity states that justice most always be tempered with mercy and Canon #1752 states that the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls.

No true parent when trying to teach their child a lesson does so in order to destroy the child, but does so in the hope that the child will learn the lesson and not make the same mistake again. This is also true of God and His Church.

The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the phrase, “Listen, my child, to the precepts of your master, and incline the ear of your heart; willingly receive and faithfully fulfill the admonition of your loving father that you may return by the labor of obedience to Him

from whom you had departed through the sloth of disobedience.”

Each year the Church gives us this joyful Season of Lent when we prepare to celebrate the Paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.

This season gives us an opportunity to reflect upon those times in our lives when we have turned away from God. We go down into ourselves with a flashlight looking for the evil we have intended or done—not to excise it as some alien growth, but to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil, but acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way that we can truly raise and redeem it.

All sin comes originally from the pure and holy sparks of Divine motivation—the desires to nurture and be nurtured, to support those we love, to find intimacy, and to reach transcendence. If we can recognize the holy sparks within our sins, and have a clear vision of the world and those around us, we can raise those sparks and redeem them. In this way not only do we atone for our sins, but we gain access to new forces of holiness within us.

The mercy which God speaks of is His offering to us. We have this wonderful opportunity to rekindle the Divine spark within us that might seem to be flickering due to our sinful actions.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation allows us to rekindle that Divine spark and experience the mercy of God immediately as we receive absolution for our sins. What a wonderful gift the Church given us!

We live in a society where, for many, vengeance is more important than mercy. God does not desire His “pound of flesh” from us even though He would certainly be entitled to it. Instead, as far as the east is from the west does God put our sins away from Himself.

Sharing God’s mercy with others can do more to bring a person to accepting God in their lives than anything we might ever be able to say to them. Let us share the mercy we have received from God with those we meet so that they can know the source of our joy and be willing to turn their lives over to God as well.