1 Jn. 5:1-6
I cannot remember the first time I heard someone say “it’s not fair.” To tell the truth, I could have said those words in regard to my perceived difference in how my parents treated me versus my brothers and sisters. I certainly heard my children declare it is not fair more than once.
We hear about unfairness regarding a host of social programs, local and federal policies and how taxes are levied. I could go on but the real issue of fairness would seem to vary depending on your own perspective. How can anyone believe fairness can ever be equal because we are definitely not all created equal? Who gets to set the standard of what is fair and what is not fair? In our case, it would seem what is fair depends on how we are impacted by the reward or penalty of the action for or against someone.
Is it fair that some are born into poverty and some into wealth? Is it fair that some are gifted athletically and some are not? We could go on about the differences that some judge are not fair and attempt to have government step in to make things more equal. We live in a society that is doing its best to minimize the differences all in an effort to create fairness or equality.
We have an entire generation being raised on the concept that everyone who completes gets a trophy – win or lose. Yet, I bet every kid who was in that competition knows who won and who lost. We cannot help ourselves – we have this desire to know our effort will be rewarded. The truth is we have been raised to believe in a system of reward and punishment.
Our parents were the first teachers of this system. If we obeyed the rules they set, we avoided punishment and in some households gained a reward for complying. My dad had only one standard and that was you obeyed his rules or you were punished. When we entered school we had this concept reinforced by another system of reward and punishment. If we were good we were rewarded with gold stars and smiley faces, our names printed on the honor roll and a bumper sticker that proclaimed your success as an honor student.
Society established that same system of reward and punishment by its laws and by enforcing those laws. If you obey the law, you will never feel the consequences but disobey and you pay the price. If you think about it our Church indirectly reinforces this system by giving us a penance after we confess our failings. Yes we have learned this system of reward and punishment very well.
Today as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday we have to consider how we are recipients of a different standard that has nothing to do with our efforts good or bad. Let me give you a scripture passage from the New Living Translation of something Paul was inspired to make sure we understood about God’s system of reward and punishment. Paul wrote “God saved you by his mercy when you believed. You can’t take credit for this. It is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for anything we have done, we cannot earn salvation or else you could boast about it.” (Eph.2:8-9).
It cannot get much clearer – God is telling us to change our way of thinking. Mercy is a gift we cannot earn and is offered to anyone who “comes to their senses” as we are told the prodigal son did. The fact we cannot earn mercy is a hard concept to accept and God knows this and that is why we are shown the response of the older brother of the prodigal son. He learned the system of reward for hard work and God shows us ourselves in his unrelenting anger over his brother’s restoration.
It is hard for us to accept God does love those we believe are unworthy of mercy as much as he loves us. How can God love those who abuse their spouses or children as much as he loves us? How can God love the person who raped you as much as he loves you? How can God love the person who abused your child as much as he loves your child? It is not even close to being fair in our minds and yet that is exactly what mercy is and exactly what God wants us to understand about mercy.
God has no preconditions to dispensing mercy. God freely pours out mercy if we like the prodigal come to our senses and turn to him. The parable of the workers in the vineyard shows us mercy in a different way than the story of the prodigal son. The story shows those who worked only one hour receiving the same wages as those who worked twelve hours. He once again shows us how we are invested in fairness when the first workers complain how paying them the same wage as the last workers is not fair. The sad thing is we agree with those who worked all day – they deserved more because they earned it.
We see God’s standard of Mercy in the story of the woman caught in adultery. We see God’s standard of Mercy when Jesus offers the Samaritan woman what she is desperately seeking in all her broken relationships. He offers her restoration and wholeness not because she earned it but because God desires us to understand mercy is a free gift.
It is the same thing he offers us every time be come before him and that is to accept why he willingly climbed Calvary to make this gift available to us. He died for our salvation; for the forgiveness of our sins and that includes those of the truly evil in this world.
That demands a response from us – we must like the Samaritan woman say ‘give me this living water.” We must like the prodigal allow ourselves to be embraced and restored. We like the thief on the cross must give voice to our desire for this free gift. We must like him say “remember me” but more than say remember me we must say let me always remember the result of why you died. What is offered to us is a free gift and it will never be earned by our good deeds or faithful attendance at mass each week.
This calls for us to have our minds renewed by a new way of thinking – as new creations by the gift of the Holy Spirit changing our minds and hearts. Then we must act on this gift by embracing it and by offering it to others. Mercy came to us at a high price – Christ dying for us. It demands our offering that same forgiveness to those we have cut out of our lives because of some past hurt. It demands we offer mercy by praying for those who need our forgiveness.