By BISHOP BERNARD E. SHLESINGER III, Commentary | Published September 18, 2020 | En Español
“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.” –Pope Francis
We live in a world in which we can easily find ourselves angry and frustrated in the face of injustice. In sports, we may ‘boo’ the umpires or referees if they make a bad call. We demand instant replay hoping that a questionable ruling on the field can be overturned. In the political world, campaign advertisements of “mud-slinging” aim at discrediting one’s political rival. In the cry for justice, we can often forget the role of mercy.
Most people know the Golden Rule—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” which sums up the law and prophets. But I pose to you the question: “When others do unto us (e.g. harm), should we do unto them the same?” Must we retaliate in similar turn by of a provocation toward anger? Must we turn into adversaries rather than missionaries of mercy?
Jesus is clear that retaliation is not the way for his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” In Matthew 7:38-39, Jesus does not teach that we should allow others to abuse us nor that we abandon the work for justice; He does challenge us to love beyond the injury caused by another and to learn to right the wrong by going the extra mile (Mt 7:40).
In the work for justice, some think that superheroes must win at all costs and the bad guys must be eliminated at all costs. I hope that our young people will not adhere to this thought without deep reflection on the message of mercy. Romano Guardini, a prominent theologian of the 20th century, wrote in a profound way about the relationship between justice and mercy:
“Justice is good. It is the foundation of existence. But there is something higher than justice, the bountiful widening of the heart to mercy. Justice is clear, but one step further and it becomes cold. Mercy is genuine, heartfelt; when backed by character, it warms and redeems. Justice regulates, orders existence; mercy creates. Justice satisfies the mind that all is as it should be, but from mercy leaps the joy of creative life.”
In baseball, the umpire still calls balls and strikes and we pray that the umpire has a good eye for the strike zone. We should love umpires nevertheless and be willing to cut them some slack even if they call a ball a strike–“To err is human; to forgive is divine.” Sadly, many people today want to punish, belittle or condemn others with never a thought of love towards them. Winning is not the only thing; merciful love is everything. The way of mercy is the way of God, who “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
Those who were ready to throw stones at the adulterous walked away when challenged by Jesus to look deeper. Thankfully, God is not ready to throw stones at us nor walk away from us for he came not to condemn but to save. Let us draw upon the depth of God’s mercy lest we fail to receive it in the end: “For the judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jas 2:13)