(20) Pope Francis rightly notes the connection between mercy and justice. It takes both to order life as we know it. But the ordering of the two is crucial.
If we lead with justice, we run the risk of never getting to mercy because our initial relations with people are based on how others “obey the law.” Those who obey “correctly” (that is, as the holders of the law deem correctness) are accepted; those who disobey are not–at least until they do something to show they are sorry for their disobedience and promise to amend their ways.
What gets lost in the lead-with-justice approach is that neither Jesus nor Paul used it. Moreover, it assumes some kind of “in” group, when the Bible says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) The lead-with-justice approach is devoid of grace, and in that vacuum, pride and judgmentalism can characterize those who are “in,” while discouragement and stigmatization characterize those who are “out.”
But, as Pope Francis shows, when we lead with mercy, “insider/outsider” thinking is banished, putting our relations with others on the basis of our mutual humanity–a humanity universally in need of grace, and having been given grace by God. In that realization we cannot withhold what God has already given.
When mercy leads and defines our relationships, all of us are in a position to allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever changing needs to take place in us. This does not happen when a lead-with-justice approach, simply because the “other” is never welcomed into an environment where change can occur.
So, as Pope Francis emphasizes, we are called to lead with mercy, precisely because that is how God led with us. It is in the context of mercy that justice can then be done.
[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]