(21) The mercy/justice combination is so important that Pope Francis devotes another segment to it. This time he notes that one problem with the lead-with-justice approach is that the most justice can exact from us is respect.
And when justice is conveyed through legalism, it doesn’t even get that much from us; it gets our rejection with a not surprising “thanks, but no thanks” response. This is something the legalists never acknowledge, allowing them to heap further judgment upon those who do not “obey the law.” This enables them to artificially shift the blame from themselves to those they have victimized.
The whole lead-with-justice system fails, even in its best efforts. God certainly does not want our rejection, and even our respect is not enough. God wants our love.
Only mercy begets love. If God did not begin with mercy, God would not be God–Whose nature is love, love from which amazing grace flows to “the sinner” who is any and all of us. Pope Francis illustrates this in the story of Hosea. Mercy does not deny justice, it only precedes and then goes beyond it–as the hymn writer puts it, “grace that is greater than all our sins.”
The ultimate sign that mercy supercedes justice is the Cross. In eternal paradox (which is ultimately indescribable), God “absorbs” the justice and “extends” the mercy–both in Christ. We must do likewise.
But too often we reverse it by asking the sinner to “absorb” justice as a pre-requisite to the extending of mercy. This is simply not the way of God. Instead, in Christ we see the primacy of mercy, offered to us all in ways that derives justice in the process.
[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]