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Mercy and Justice

by Jul 6, 2022Friar Reflection

Recently, the first readings in daily Mass have been from the prophets; last week was Amos and this week we hear from the prophet Hosea. If you would like to read a short introduction to Hosea, you can find it here. Our reading today comes from the larger section of Hosea known as “Israel’s Guilt, Punishment, and Restoration” (4:1–14:9).

As does every prophet, the reading raises the question of sin, mercy and justice. In the short section we have for today, all the key elements are contained within. Hosea lists the sins of the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel as their prosperity leads them away from God as the center of their lives, away from the Covenant. The role of the prophet is to name the sin. Unrepentant sin has its immediate and generational consequences. The prophet Amos’ message from last week was the same: “For three crimes…and now four.” There is a limit when the hearts are hardened and mercy not sought, but justice cries out. Recall the psalm response to last week’s reading from Amos: “Remember this, you who never think of God.” (Psalm 50) – there is mercy for those who ask, but there is also justice due to God.

In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul focuses on the righteousness of God (Rom 1:17), a phrase Paul will use an additional seven times in the letter. Here is a bare summary of St. Paul’s thoughts this idea:

The “righteousness of God

  • Can be an activity of God but also the basis of the saving action. In these passages, God’s “righteousness” is his faithfulness, his commitment to fulfill the promises he has made to his people. Since it is generally thought that OT righteousness language has to do with meeting commitments imposed by the covenant relationship, this dimension of God’s righteousness is often said to be God’s covenant faithfulness – the beneficial operation of God’s righteousness.
  • But an aspect of that very righteousness is justice. In Psalm 50, God sits as judge assuring the wicked there will be judgment – but at the same time calling for repentance. Here God’s righteousness is virtually his justice, his commitment to deliver those who have met the standards of the covenant and reject those who have not. God’s covenant commitment, these passages suggest, is a commitment to do what is “right” with reference to that covenant. When Israel’s enemies are in view, or when Israel breaks the terms of the covenant, God’s righteousness naturally takes on a negative, judgmental aspect.
  • Even more intrinsic to the covenant, and perhaps the foundation of the covenant, is that God acts for the glory of his name. Thus, God acts not to an external norm, but consistent with who God is as God. To be and act righteously is the nature of God. This is the long history of Israel’s experience. They are convinced that God can always be depended upon to act in accordance with what is right, as defined by God’s person and promises.

Perhaps a way to consider sin, mercy and justice is to start with the knowledge God will always act in accord with righteousness of Himself. If we act in concert with the covenant, we will only know the beneficial operation of God’s righteousness. This is the path for those who always think of God.