Building Treasure in Heaven: Love Mercy

In our last reflection in this series, we looked at Justice as central to building up Treasure in Heaven. It is part of the triad of virtues — Justice, Mercy, and Faith — that Jesus highlights as ‘the weightier matters of the law’ by which we should be all be ‘weighing’ our actions (Matthew 23:23). Today, we are going to look at Mercy.

You cannot overstate the importance of mercy in both Jesus’ ministry and the Christian life. This is because mercy is central to the character of God. Pope Francis even wrote a book called The Name of God is Mercy. The most important thing about God may be God’s mercy. We will look at God’s mercy through two snapshots from Jesus’ life.

Snapshot One: John 8:1-11

A woman is on her knees, terrified and sobbing. She has been caught in the act of adultery, and the religious authorities are ready to inflict the full judgement of the ancient Jewish law upon her. They are prepared to throw heavy, sharp rocks at her until they break and kill her. They only pause because they want to use this particular legal case as a way to test Jesus before they execute her. “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They are trying to trip him up for being too soft on crime and for not giving full weight to the law of Moses.

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3 Replies to “Building Treasure in Heaven: Love Mercy”

  1. Steve I have prayed on the first story last two day and concluded in his mercy what we don’t know is what led this women to adultery. And in this passage we do not see Jesus address that but as you eloquently put it she is saved from an unloving law. Carrying that forward in our prisons we use the law and punish. But we do not carry that to compassion and mercy and transformation. We are stuck at punishment. Recently I see some movement to courts and collaboration that are rehabilitative.

    1. Our system is based largely on vengeance. That is inevitable; people want this, and vengeance is simply hidden under lofty phrases like “sentences which express public abhorrence of an offence,” or “sentences which adequately reflect public denunciation of unlawful conduct.” Certainly it was a big step forward when early medieval kings substituted trials by robed emissaries of the king, backed by soldiers, for the chaos of families’ seeking revenge on other families. Still, we do try. The federal women’s prison near Maple Creek, SK, is an example. It is a “healing lodge” which attempts to rehabilitate through kindness. And it works, I think, largely because the female inmates are horribly abused and damaged people. Readers of Steve’s writing might be interested in a recent book, “Peace and Good Order,” by Harold Johnson, a rather brilliant indigenous author and former Crown Prosecutor from Saskatchewan. He has grown sufficiently impatient with the “white man’s” system of justice to preach a revolutionary (if necessary) movement by indigenous people to establish a separate “rehabilitative” justice system for aboriginals. I don’t agree with him, but he is interesting.

    2. Marion, I don’t mean to turn Steve’s blog into an exchange on criminal justice (and hopefully Steve will not resent this), but I thought you might be interested in an anecdote from one of my visits to the Okimaw Ohci (sp.?) federal women’s prison “healing lodge” near Maple Creek in SW Saskatchewan. This facility is without walls and very short on guards. The emphasis is on rehabilitation, through emphasis on native spirituality. The second time I visited, it was with a male and female Anglican priest, and while we were there one of the inmates (they are all female and indigenous) told us she needed Christian (specifically Anglican) counselling, and could we arrange this? Predictably, the institution said no: no white man’s religion will be allowed. I found this infuriating, but nonetheless the Okimaw Ohci facility does much good. The women are serving federal time ( i.e. for serious offences; many have committed homicide). There is an elaborate healing lodge facility and many counsellers. The women live in separate suites in long, connected rows, like a nice motel. The first time I was there, it was with a bunch of judges. The inmates had been told to leave their doors ajar if they wanted people to come in and talk. I went into one. It was nice; the inmate had put up pictures and there was a cat. The inmate was a young former prostitute who had slashed one of her johns to death. There was a bunch of female judges in there. The inmate said, “From my earliest memories, it was all my ‘uncles’ coming into my room to molest me. That went on until I was 11 or 12; then they started putting makeup on me and shoving me out on to the stroll. This room [pointing around her] is the first place I ever had where no man can come in and feel me up and rape me. If I don’t want that guy [pointing to me] in here, I can tell him to get out, and if he doesn’t they’ll come and throw him out. I’ll bet you didn’t grow up that way.” From the looks on the faces of the female judges (looking as if they’d been hit in the back of the head with a plank), I’ll guess they didn’t. It is disappointing to relate that recently a male deputy warden was convicted and punished for sexually assaulting a couple of the inmates. I guess this shit never ends. On this visit, the inmates had made a meal for all of us, a great one, and they were very proud of this. I saw an inmate who had been convicted of manslaughter hug the judge who’d sentenced her. The inmates were all proud of having acquired skills in maintaining an attractive home and cooking, things they’d never done before. I often wonder what happened to these mostly young and attractive women upon release. Did the inmate in whose room I was find a room whose door she could lock? I rather doubt it. Many of them likely returned to the stroll. There were a couple of Montana judges on this visit, and I gathered from one of them that in Montana the existence of this kind of facility was not likely to happen. So if the first great step forward in criminal justice was the subjugation of the unruly population to the courts, maybe Okimaw Ohci is the beginning of the second.

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