BY: Fr. Gerald Musa

Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. – C.S. Lewis
One of the greatest challenges in life is how to apply or balance justice and mercy. Parents encounter this challenge when dealing with their children; judges battle with this challenge in court in the process of trial; leaders struggle with this when dealing with their subordinates; we all face this challenge when dealing with people who have offended us.

In the famous play, Merchant of Venice written by Shakespeare, Portia, a Doctor of the Law, repeatedly asks Shylock, a businessman to show mercy to his debtor telling him that mercy “is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes” (IV, i, 185). However, Shylock insists on justice, which requires that he extract a pound of flesh of his debtor.

In the parable of the Wheat Farmer, Jesus tells us how God in his infinite wisdom exercise justice and mercy (Matthew 13:24-30). The wheat farmer sowed good seed (wheat) and while he went away the enemy came to sow weeds among the wheat. The plant grew and the weeds grew as well.

The slaves of the householder were unhappy to see weeds around the beautiful wheat that the farmer planted. They asked the master if they should pull out the weeds, but the master replied: ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.’

The farmer was very right to stop the slaves from pulling the weeds out. Wheat and weeds are so similar in the farm that it takes an experienced farmer to differentiate between them. It is more so when both are still growing, but when the wheat and weeds come to maturity it is easy to separate them because the wheat plant has grains and the weeds are ‘grainless’. The parable explains how God allows a sinner and a saint to live side by side and to pray and worship together. It refers to the mother Church that welcomes everyone, good and wicked alike. The parable presents a God who allows good and evil to co-exist and letting his sun shine on both sinners and saints. Psalm 86 speaks beautifully of this God who is good and forgiving and who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.”

The book of wisdom further explains the mercy and patience of God (See Wisdom 12:13, 16-19). This Wisdom passage proclaims God as Master of might, who judges with clemency, and governs with much lenience. Secondly, this same passage speaks about a God who offers his children a second chance by accepting those who repent. Thirdly, the passage declares that human beings have something to learn from the nature of God: that those who are just must be kind. No wonder Prophet Micah says: “He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

We have a tendency to be unlike God by our judgmental attitude. Often we judge other people without sufficient evidence and we are quick to condemn others without exercising patience or even without offering a second chance to the people we dislike. The scale of measurement we use for judging others is quite different from the yardstick God uses. Man looks at appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). It is not within our human power to judge anyone, since God is the righteous and ultimate judge who does not make a rash judgment but waits until the end of time.

But wait a minute! If God is so merciful, does he exercise any sense of justice? In as much as God is a merciful God, he is also a God of justice. Scriptures asserts that God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4; Zephaniah 3:5). The later part of the parable of the wheat farmer demonstrates a God who also has the power to wield the big stick in the final judgment. Judges in law courts imitate God’s sense of justice when they hit the hammer-shaped gavel on the desk to stamp their authority.

A loving father cannot train his son on the wings of mercy alone. If he does so, he would produce a spoilt child. This is why C.S. Lewis says: “Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful.” Mercy is relevant when it is mixed with the right dose of tough love, which is justice. Thus, in the parable Jesus speaks about the final judgment when God grants eternal rewards to the good and condemns unrepentant perpetrators of evil.

God is merciful when he treats people with great patience and he is just when, at the end of time, he gives each one what his conduct deserves.
16th Sunday of the Year A
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19;
Matthew 13:24-43

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