The Gospel according to 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: In yesterday’s gospel Jesus tells us he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In today’s gospel he helps us to find the perfect balance between mercy and justice.
This reminds me of the struggle I have with mercy and justice. I tend to focus on mercy. Maybe because I want to address hurt and pain with a shower of forgiveness and love that can help overcome feelings of unworthiness. But in doing so I can overlook the importance of dealing with the issue in a responsible and justified manner.
It appears then as it does now, we struggle with leaning too much on the side of mercy or the side of justice. However, they are not mutually exclusive. Just like so many other things in the life of a Christian what may seem to many as opposed are actually coexistent. Jesus came so that we could appreciate, apply, and experience life through the love of a just God. Not justice only but justice with charity.
Is this not a good reminder? So many times we fly into a rage because someone has done something causing hurt or destruction. We immediately call for justice. The perpetrator is guilty and needs to be punished. We want this person to suffer worse than the victim or at the very least the same. There is nothing wrong with a passionate sense of justice. We need rules, laws, guides to help all of us recognize boundaries and to help promote a civil and moral coexistence. But isn’t it interesting when we are the offender and justice is not called upon so swiftly and with such fervor for retribution.
There is one lesson that Jesus always reinforced with his behavior and actions. When approached by a sinner seeking to regain balance in their life Jesus met them with mercy, love, and forgiveness. And without demanding justice he made it clear that there was unfinished business. The person who had just received the gift of mercy was asked to sin no more. In other words, live a life of justice.
What a wonderful teacher! He not only spoke the word, but he also exemplified the word. And, yes, he was the WORD. But that is why he came, so we could hear and see the balance between the Christian life of mercy and justice. Both are important and necessary to follow and live like Christ. The balance is in the WORD which resides in you and me.
Closing Prayer: Dear merciful and just God may the grace you bless us with every day help us to seek and find the narrow way. We know it is difficult but not impossible as long as we rely on you. And like your son, help us to speak and live with mercy and justice so that others may find their balance with you.
Action for the Day: What has caused you recently to charge up the justice hill without an equal passion for mercy. Reflect on the life of Christ and ask him to help you approach every situation and person today as he would with a heart full of love and a love for the law that helps heal and redirect us all into the arms of our Father.