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Justice and Mercy

  • June 10, 2021 (readings)
  • Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
  • Carey Boyzuck
  • Matthew 5:20-26

    Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

    Opening Prayer: God, you are the just judge, and you are also full of mercy. Thank you for teaching me in your way of justice and mercy. Help me to fulfill your greatest commandment and love others as you have loved me (cf. John 13:34).

    Encountering Christ:

    1. Perfecting the Law: Jesus fulfills and completes the Torah, the Mosaic law, with love. He perfects the law; he does not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). The new law is fulfilled by love (cf. Romans 13:10). The scribes and the Pharisees lived by the old law and held to a theology of retribution. This means they believed salvation was earned by following the strict Levitical laws, and that God would bless them if they did so and curse them if they did not (cf. Deuteronomy 28). Jesus changed all this, replacing this legal striving for salvation with his grace. He perfected and united the law in his love. He did not abolish the law; in fact, he made it even more important. This is why he told his disciples that their faith would need to be greater than the scribes and Pharisees. Their faith was transactional: God would bless or curse them according to their adherence to the law. Jesus was saying that not only did they need to follow the law, but that it must be perfected in their hearts by loving. The old law says, “You shall not kill.” The new law goes a step further and says you must love your brother so much that you do not harbor any anger against him. This requires forgiveness and reconciliation. Thankfully, we do not have to forgive on our own. We can count on our Lord to guide us in his merciful way.

    2. God’s Name Is Mercy: The new law in Christ is a convergence of justice (truth and law) with mercy (love and peace): “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss” (Psalms 85:11). Justice does not disappear because mercy is present. Christ, the perfectly just judge is also kind and merciful: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalms 103:8). The Catechism teaches that “justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor” (CCC 1807). God is truly just, and he is also “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). In fact, the name of God is mercy. God revealed his name to Moses after Israel sinned by creating and worshiping the golden calf after the Exodus: “And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation’” (Exodus 34:5-7). That is a long name! His name is so long because it communicated something new to Moses about his identity. God is merciful and loving because he is forgiving. He is also just because he does not allow sinners to remain in their sin or commit sinful acts without consequences. What loving father would allow his children to continue to sin or do things that hurt themselves without consequences to discipline them? We can be instruments of Christ’s merciful justice in our homes and places of work by focusing on being fair, forgiving, and gentle while remaining firm in our convictions and focused on the truth. 

    3. Settle Out of Court: The last lines of today’s Gospel are a bit tricky. Why should you settle with your opponent on the way to court? The answer is because in this scenario you are the one on trial. Your opponent has a case against you, not the other way around. You are the one who owes a debt, because your opponent will have you thrown into prison for not paying him back. Also, your guilt is not in dispute. You know you have wronged the other person, because you are willing to “settle out of court” and pay him what you owe to avoid the greater punishment of prison. Jesus is teaching us to seek out forgiveness from others in a timely fashion. This passage is telling us if we know we have wronged someone, we should not put off apologizing and paying back our debt to the person. Jesus asks us to take responsibility for our actions and humbly admit our faults. Admitting our sins and seeking forgiveness applies to our relationship with God as well as our human relationships. When we have sinned–especially in the case of mortal sin–it is important to receive the sacrament of reconciliation in a timely manner.

    Conversing with Christ: Jesus, thank you for being our merciful and just judge. How blessed am I that you, my mediator, will also be my judge at the end of my days (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6). Thank you for all the times you have forgiven me for my sins, and for all the times yet to come. Please teach me how to imitate your virtues of justice and mercy in my life as a reflection of your goodness.

    Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will prayerfully consider if I need to ask one of my brethren for forgiveness.

    For Further Reflection: Watch these videos from Ascension Presents by Father Mike Schmitz. This one is about how to forgive others coupled with justice: Forgiveness. This one is about how to ask for forgiveness from God: Making a Good Confession


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