Justice and Mercy Sermon by Metropolitan Anthony

9 October 1977
Theme: Love, Human values   Place: London Parish   Period: 1976-1980   Genre: Sermon

Today’s Gospel is about mercy, and it seems to us so often from the experience we have of our earthly relationships that the gap between justice and mercy is almost unbridgeable. It seems that the two are in contradiction. Don’t we always fall into the trap of being unjust when we try to be merciful and so hard when we try to observe mercy. Did not one of the great writers of the past say that a judge is at the same time below the level of man and above the level of man – above because he has a power which is superhuman to judge and to condemn, below because it is not given Him to have mercy. And yet Holy Scrip­ture teaches us that in God justice and mercy have met. But the justice which we find in God is so different from the kind of justice which we try to apply. For us to observe justice is to pass a right judgement and then either to revoke it or to pardon but without being able within ourselves to reconcile compassion and severity. So often when we want to be just, severe, helpful in that way we must force our heart to be silent. Such is not the way of God. Christ says in the Gospel that our justice must be beyond the justice of Scribes and Pharisees, beyond the people who try to be righteous before God, who try to be spotless before Him. What is God’s justice? We can see it in the Old Testament and New Testament in a way which at times may frighten us, that the justice of God consists first of all – and this is perhaps the most frightening example Christ gives us – consists first of all in recognizing for him the right to be himself even if he is in the wrong, even if he follows evil ways(?). Oh it does not mean that we can come to terms with evil, accept the ways of it, but we must learn to dis­tinguish as God does, between an evil deed and a person, between the sickness unto death of a person wounded by sin and possessed of evil and a person whom God has willed and loved into the world and for whom he proved ready to live and to die. God knows how to distinguish. One of the most frightening and striking examples of it can be found in the very beginning of human history when Cain murders his brother Abel and then feels that not only God’s rejection but man’s hatred will hunt him down. And the Lord says to him, ‘I will put my seal on thy forehead and no one will kill you.’ And by doing this God recognizes that he has given freedom, a frightening freedom to man and that he is to guarantee the freedom and even its misuse – but not only that. If that was the case, then God would be responsible for all the evil of the world and we could condemn him for all the suffering that is ours, for all the horror that has been in human history. But there is one more thing God does. He takes upon Himself all the consequences of deliberate or foolish human choices. He takes them upon Him­self and carries the consequences upon his shoulders. Christ’s incarnation, the incarnation of the Son of God, the life, the suffering, the death, the dereliction upon the Cross, the descent into Hell of Christ, the Son of the Living God become the Son of Man, are different manners in which God covers, takes upon Him­self the consequences of human evil and evil in the world. His justice consists in accepting the other one on his own terms but also of paying the cost of human folly and human evil. And here love, sacrificial love and justice as we do not either understand or exercise it meet in a way which can frighten. To recognize in another person even when this person is endangering our integrity, our life, a human being whom we are called to take upon ourselves and carry and save, is something which few achieve. I have mentioned to a certain number of you the story of a woman of this parish who is now coming step by step to her death. When she was young she was taken to prison in the course of the Russian Revo­lution. She underwent interrogation….. and one night when she had been interrogated for hours and hours and felt that she could no longer endure it, she felt that she must break the spell even if she must suffer for it, even if it meant punishment… and she turned to her interrogator ready to challenge, to insult him, but make an end to this endless torment. And suddenly she saw on the other side of the interrogation table a man pale, gray with tiredness, with anguish on his face because he was exhausted. And she suddenly saw him a human being, not an enemy but one whom the cruel circumstances of human history had put on one side of the table while she was on the other. And having seen him a human being, she smiled at him. The interrogation did not come

to an end. He smiled back, but he continued to interrogate her. But she was now beyond the power of being destroyed. She had seen a man; she would answer now with patience to a man and be gradually drawn to her tomb without hatred, without bitterness in an act of surrender. This is a great example, but it is not taken from the Scriptures, which seems so often remote, nor from the lives of saints, which seem to be beyond us, but from the life of a woman who is one of us. Can’t we understand that the first act of justice which may lead us to stern action unto salvation of the evildoer, is first of all to recognize in him the right, to hate in him the evil that possesses him, to hate in him all that is destruction in him, but to serve him, indeed to worship him, to serve him as we would serve our God, to serve him unto salvation. The distance between justice and mercy seems to be infinitely great in our lives. We must learn to dis­cover what it means to love unto salvation and to be just with the crucified love of the living God, which he has left with us as our most precious and holy gift, the Church. Amen.

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