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The twists and turns of God's mercy

by Monsignor Gaspar F. Ancona
When we are to stand before God in judgment at the end of our days to give an account of ourselves and our earthly life, wouldn't most of us prefer to rely on God's mercy rather than on God's strict justice? To put the question this way implies that God’s justice is somehow separate from God's mercy — and maybe even the opposite of it. We would, in other words, prefer that God wouldn't go "by the book" or by the strict letter of the law, but, instead, be more understanding and compassionate. We hope for a God who will give us a break.
Not everyone wants God to be so indulgent. The trouble with such "soft-headed" thinking, some feel, is that it makes people unaccountable. The markers for out-of-bounds behavior get changed in our favor so often that we might as well not have any rules. It appears that some critics of Jesus felt this way. To them, he went too far in his teaching and attitude about God's mercy and forgiveness. One example they would cite is the parable of the prodigal son (or, as some prefer to name it, the prodigal father). When Jesus went so far as to ask his Father to forgive those who crucified him (because they didn’t really know what they were doing), critics might have asked, "What’s the use of having any rules for moral behavior?
If even the killing of God's own Son can be excused out of ignorance, what cannot be forgiven?"
That, of course, is the way and the nature of our Jesus. His mercy is so great and his forgiveness so limitless that any and all human failings and betrayals can be rooted out and transformed. We call him King, Lord, Sovereign or any such exalted title to try to convey what he, in his love and sacrifice for us, has accomplished. He has made of us and our world a new creation.
Monsignor Ancona is a senior priest of the Diocese of Grand Rapids.