Monday, September 29, 2008

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time- "Fairness" vs. Mercy

I just wanted to reflect a little bit on yesterday's readings.

The first comes from Ezekiel:
Thus says the LORD:
You say, "The LORD's way is not fair!"
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?
When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies,
it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed,
he does what is right and just,
he shall preserve his life;
since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed,
he shall surely live, he shall not die.
This calls to mind a homily that a heard years ago from the same priest at the Mass I went to yesterday. He said that of all of God's attributes (love, mercy, wisdom, etc.) one that is never listed is fairness. If God were fair, we wouldn't deserve our next breath. Given how much we offend God on a daily basis, wouldn't it be "fair" for God, who is all-good, to wipe out all of us who are wicked? But thankfully, although God is just, which isn't the same as being fair, He is merciful. And how great is that mercy! We hear about it in our second reading:

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Was the Cross "fair"? Of course not. Jesus was without sin and had done nothing to deserve the cruel death He suffered. The Cross was the result of our false concept of fairness, that those who pose an inconvenience for us should pay. But He endured it, not because we deserved to be saved, but because in His mercy He desired that we be saved.

We have our own concepts of fairness, of who is just and unjust, and who is worthy and unworthy. But we cannot see into a person's heart. Look at the example of this Sunday's Gospel:

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people:
"What is your opinion?
A man had two sons.
He came to the first and said,
'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.'
He said in reply, 'I will not, '
but afterwards changed his mind and went.
The man came to the other son and gave the same order.
He said in reply, 'Yes, sir, ‘but did not go.
Which of the two did his father's will?"
They answered, "The first."
Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you,
tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.
When John came to you in the way of righteousness,
you did not believe him;
but tax collectors and prostitutes did.
Yet even when you saw that,
you did not later change your minds and believe him."
Now, did the Pharisees think it was "fair" for Jesus to welcome tax collectors and prostitutes into His Kingdom? No. They felt that as strict observers of the Law they were above criticism, while those who broke the Law were inhuman. They could not see the wickedness in their own hearts, nor could they see the good in others' hearts. But God knows our hearts, and desires to show us mercy if we will just seek it. The Pharisees couldn't seek it because they didn't think they needed it. They didn't think the sinners Jesus embraced deserved forgiveness- and in that respect they were right. None of them did, nor do we. But God gave it to them, and gives it to us, in His infinite mercy.

No, God isn't "fair", or what we would define as fair. But as that priest who gave that homily said, "Thank God God isn't fair!" We don't need fairness- we need mercy.

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