“Mercy and Judgment,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
The new pope, Pope Francis, has correctly emphasized the Church’s concern with the poor and its emphasis on the mercy and the love of Christ for all humanity. This is certainly a correct emphasis and articulation since the “good news” of the gospel is the love of Christ for all humanity and his offer of eternal life for those who follow him in their lives. Pope Francis apparently has reached the conclusion that the Church’s prior emphasis on legalism and on certain sins was not altogether effective. Perhaps Pope Francis is saying that the Church is not out to condemn sinners but is a place and hospital for sinner who are all of us.
There is no doubt that there are many passages in the New Testament concerning mercy. In Matthew 5:7 in the Beatitudes Jesus states that the merciful are “blessed and shall obtain mercy.” In Matthew 9:13, Jesus says that he desires mercy and not sacrifice and “came not to call righteous but sinners.” In Matthew 9:27, two blind men ask that Jesus have mercy on them. In Matthew 15:22, a woman asks that Jesus have mercy on her daughter whom she states was possessed by a demon. In Matthew 17:15, it is requested of Christ that he exercise mercy on someone’s son who was an epileptic. In Mathew 20:21, two blind men sitting by the roadside ask Jesus for mercy. In Mark 10:27-28, Jesus is asked for mercy by a blind beggar. In Luke 1:50, mercy is again referred to. In Luke 10:37, at the conclusion of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is asked “Who of the three was the neighbor to the robbers?” and Jesus answers “The one who showed mercy upon him.” In Luke 16:24, in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man cries out for mercy. In Luke 17:13, ten lepers ask for mercy of Jesus. In Luke 18:38, a blind man begging by the roadside asks for mercy from Jesus.
In these biblical references, I have given the reader some basis for the Church’s emphasis on mercy and love. However, one must recognize that there is an equal emphasis and mention by Jesus of judgment and one cannot evade this fact. In fact, it is an essential part of Church doctrine that there will be a final day of judgment. There are many mentions of judgment in the Gospel. For example, in Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus says that whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council and whoever says “You fool” shall be liable to hell. In Matthew 2, Jesus says you should not judge and with the judgment you pronounce you shall be so judged. In Matthew 10:15, Jesus again refers to the day of judgment. In Matthew 11:22-24, Jesus again refers to judgment. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus refers to a final judgment at the end of the ages and specifically states that he will throw evil-doers into the furnace of fire where those men will weep and gnash their teeth while the righteous will shine like the sun. In Matthew 27:19, again there is a reference to the judgment seat. In Luke 19:14, Jesus again refers to judgment. In Luke 11:31-33, there is a statement that judgment has been given from the Father to the Son. Again, in John 5:27, it is stated that the Son of God will exercise judgment. In John 5:30, Jesus states that his judgment is just. In John 12:31, there is a reference again to judgment. In John 7:24, Jesus says that you may judge with right judgment. In John chapter 16, Jesus again states that he is the right judge. In John 16:8, Jesus states that there will be a judgment concerning sin. In John 16:11, Jesus again refers to judgment.
Perhaps the most explicit about judgment in the Gospels is found in Matthew 25, beginning with verse 31. Jesus says there will be a judgment and the judgment will be based on those righteous people who fed the hungry and gave them drink and welcomed them and clothed them and visited the sick and those in prison. Jesus explicitly states that those who do not do this will be sent into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels stating that when the hungry were not given food, the thirsty not given drink, and the sick not visited and those in prison not visited there will be a judgment on those bases.
How do I conclude this little essays about mercy and judgment? There can be no doubt that the gospel is good news and that it is not a matter of making judgments of any kind but of welcoming and giving to all who come to the Church the mercy and love of Christ. Since all men are sinners and all of us are imperfect and fall short, there can be no alternative but mercy and love. However, we cannot escape the fact that god is a god of mercy as well as judgement. Although god affords mercy and love to us his children and to all humanity, he does tell us many times there will be a judgment and he tells us the basis of that judgment will be how we lead out lives in relation to others. Perhaps we must understand the full measure of god’s judgment that the price for sin was the death on the cross of his only begotten son. The Crucifixion is the measure of god’s judgment and the price he chose to pay to redeem humanity and to give them the offer of his unconditional love and eternal life.
In sum, I say this: we cannot escape the fact that God is a God of mercy and love as well as a God who abhors sin and is willing to make a judgment. I also say this: We as human beings cannot make any judgment on others. I also say this: if we choose to focus on god’s active judgment, our concern should not be our nasty neighbor; that unremitting boss; and our sadistic spouse. We must recognize that it is ourselves who will be liable and subject to judgment. If any man or woman cannot accept the doctrine of hell, judgment, and punishment ,they must understand that hell and judgment are not about Hitler, are not about Stalin, and are not about Pol Pot, but are about ourselves.
This essay is taken, with some alterations, from the book Essays on “Faith, Politics, Culture and Philosophy,” Chapter 39, “Mercy and Judgment,” pp.108-110 pub by Rowman & Littlefield.