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It’s complicated

It’s complicated

Psalm 148, 149, 150 (Morning)

Psalm 114, 115 (Evening)

Job 11:1-9,13-20

Revelation 5:1-14

Matthew 5:1-12

What an interesting combination of readings today–the Beatitudes on the Gospel side, Zophar’s response to Job on the Hebrew Scriptures side, and some really strange stuff in Revelation about golden bowls and sealed scrolls in the middle!

148px-Kievskaya_psaltir_iov_02.jpgWell, let’s catch up to Job for a minute. Job just recently announced that he loathed his life; unfortunately, Zophar (whose name, interestingly, comes from the Hebrew word for “chirping”) is being rather non-helpful. “You say you’re blameless, but you must have done SOMETHING wrong…or maybe your kids did…well, someone did, anyway. Get it out and I’m sure God will be merciful to you, b/c you are a pretty good sort of a guy.”

When we’re miserable and inconsolable, really, anything anyone says to us is just so much chirping. So many times, our misery often resides in the fact we can’t seem to reconcile ourselves to the fact justice and mercy, to God, quite easily coexist, and for us, well…not so much. I’ve said for years that the difference between justice and mercy is, “Justice is what we crave for the person who’s hurt us; mercy is what we hope for when the person doing the hurting was us.”

When we’re miserable from being on the short end of justice, we tend to really want that other person to suffer. When we’re miserable from the realization we have hurt another person, though, we want to be let off easy–or off the hook entirely. Of course, for every thing we think or feel strongly about a given situation, there’s someone out there with the exact opposite viewpoint. It’s probably safe to say we crave justice when it comes to other people, but want mercy when it comes to ourselves.

Yet as Jesus points out in the Beatitudes, it’s precisely those times when we are poor in spirit where God’s presence in our lives is incredibly near. The problem, of course, is we’re in an awful place, and probably the last thing we want to do is explore this presence. We don’t want to entertain the possibility of showing mercy to the people who have harmed us, nor do we want to consider the possibility that God will accompany us as we attempt to right our wrongs and make amends…but we still have to make amends.

If this were a Facebook relationship, we’d check the “it’s complicated” box.

It’s important to remember, though, that the big difference between the way God handles justice and mercy and the way human nature handles it, are two different things. God’s over-arching plan is restorative–that all things will be brought to fulfillment in eternal relationship with God. Our tendency is to do the accounting and stop. “Let’s see, you did X, well, if Y happens I think I can let it go and call it square.” We, however, fail to account for the unquantifiable nature of transformation–both in ourselves and in others.

We also have evidence in this world to show that changing our mindsets about retribution vs. restoration is possible–what happened in South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (and continues to happen) there, with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, is nothing short of miraculous. Although imperfect, and not without its criticisms, it is at least a glimpse into the world of God’s restorative justice.

We can at least hang onto the hope that our prayers really are golden bowls of fragrant incense, and that we have enough inherent worth in the sight of God that some day, we’ll be able to open the seals on the truth of the things that have dogged us in this world.

When is a time that showing mercy to someone who harmed you transformed you? When is a time that doing the hard work of reconciliation helped you to feel God’s presence in your life?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

“Kievskaya psaltir iov 02” by unknown medieval painter – photocopy of reproduction, created by user:Butko. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –


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