The Readings for the 33rd Sunday, Tempus Per Annum (c2)
Before the LORD, for he comes,Psalm 98:9 (Responsorial)
for he comes to rule the earth,
he will rule the world with justice
and the peoples with equity.
FUN FACT: what the NABRE calls “Malachi 3:19” other translations call Malachi 4:1. NABRE has all the words, but only 3 chapters… Not really sure what that’s about. Makes it real hard to link to other translations. Anyway, furnace. We know the whole thing. The day of the Lord will hit the sinners like a fiery furnace. But wait, there’s more: the Just will see the Sun of Justice Rise.
So, for both Just and Unjust, the Day of the Lord means a fiery sunrise. The fire will burn for everyone. How will that day dawn for you?
We often make justice to mean “punishment” and mercy to mean “letting me off the hook”. These definitions are neither of them true, and they make God to be as petty as we are.
Mercy is God’s divine and infinite condescension to us in kindness and love. The first instance of this mercy, personally and for each of us, is the creation of the entire world. The second instance is the creation of your individual soul, an act of infinite love and creation in time that took place at the moment of your conception. All things – all blessings, all punishments, all teachings, all correction, all salvation, all purgation, all joys, and all sorrows – arise from this original mercy, or original blessing, as the former Dominican, Matthew Fox, called it. This is an act of Mercy because God has no need of you, no need of the universe, no need of creation at all. God’s love did this.
Then we want to think of human sin and its punishment. Yet we do not think of, even then, God’s constant mercy. For we know that sin is death. We know that we are cut off from the divine life by mortal sin (that’s why it’s called “mortal”) yet, in God’s mercy, we do not die, we are not “smote”. God lets us go on with an eye towards our repentance and restoration. Almost all of life, then, is a mercy. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions for that is part of the way the world functions: if you kill someone, they are really dead. You will grieve that action even if you are absolved. If you spread hate, you will suffer the social blowback from your actions even if you are able to grow towards love. If you commit sexual sin, there’s the possibility of a child, of disease, of re-writing the reward pathways in your brain towards an addiction. These are parts of the world in which we live and each sin means that we must deal with the actions. That’s not justice, though. It’s only the natural consequence. in some case the “really dead” or the “accidental child” my turn out to be a blessing or a curse, or even a cross, but it’s still not justice. No retribution is, of itself, justice. Eye for eye is not justice nor is, ironically, dropping things, walking away, forgetting…
God’s justice is a restoration of right relationship.
Imagine you are building a building as a contractor. The floor should be perfectly level. From that floor, at perfect 90° angles, should rise each of the walls – they are square. They stay straight, square with the floor all the way up, this means the walls are “plumb”. However, let us say that one wall begins to sag inwards. This wall will – eventually – make the adjoining walls weaker. They may begin to sag. And the roof could possibly collapse. So the owner calls you back and asks you to fix it – to make the wall square again. The process of returning the building to level, square, and plumb when projected on human relationships, is justice.
We want to think of Justice and Mercy in opposition, but, in fact, they are part and parcel of each other. Justice demands a right relationship. Mercy makes it mutually possible. Justice demands I share my surplus with the poor – not store it up in my new barns. Mercy (God’s kindness) allows me to have the grace to do it. It is not justice for the rich to hoard their wealth unless it is in order to more easily serve the poor. It is not mercy for us to say, “He can do whatever he wants with his stuff” for that leaves him in wrong relationship, leaves him in his sins. When we remind the rich man of his duty to justice and move him (through God’s grace) to restore a right relationship with the poor, that is mercy. When we use love to show someone walking away from God the right path, we are merciful: and that restores right relationship to God and others, that is justice.
They do not kiss together: they are the component parts of the same thing. Justice is the form of mercy. Mercy is the substance of justice.
Likewise the Sun of Justice and the Fiery Furnace. They are the same thing: it’s how we stand, if we’re level, square, and plumb. Or are are we sagging inwards, pulling down the whole structure? Do we want fixing or propping up? Do we need tearing down so that something good can be raised up instead? If we are falling apart, the fire will burn, but if we are solidly built in the faith, resting on the solid rock, rising like a tower, then the sunrise will show forth in the inviting colors of a new day.
God is a consuming fire. The only choice we have is shall we be consumed willingly or not.