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Lent Retreat - Week 1, Friday

Friday, February 26, 2010
Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26

The first reading seems to imply that our standing before God, for good or ill, depends on what we ourselves do. Responsibility belongs to the individual and not to families or tribes. An argument breaks out about justice – nothing new there – but this time it is between God and the people: ‘what you do is unjust; no, what you do is unjust …’ Really it is necessary to read the whole chapter to get a sense of its teaching. God concludes the argument by saying ‘you need to get a new heart and a new spirit’. This is, of course, what God later promises through Ezekiel: ‘I will pour clean water over them … put a new spirit in them ... take out of their bodies the hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh instead’ (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

It seems that, of ourselves, the best we can manage is an attempt at establishing justice. But justice alone is cruel. Without compassion and mercy human life would become impossible. The prophets, and Jesus in many of his parables, illustrate this point by showing us what a strictly just world would be like. Go to the court with your opponent if you like, Jesus says, but far better to come to terms with him before you get there. Continue to do your religious duty if you like but really you need to be reconciled with your brother first.

Thomas Aquinas speaks beautifully about the relationship between justice and mercy in God: ‘the work of divine justice always presupposes the work of mercy in which it is rooted. Divine action is always characterized by mercy as its most radical source’ (Summa theologiae I 21 4). The new heart and new spirit is the divine life, which is established as the heart of the world’s history by the teachings and actions of Jesus, the merciful and compassionate Sun of Justice and Son of God.


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