Sunday, November 9, 2014

TFTD: Thoughts on Judgment and Mercy

St. Augustine, in one of his sermons  about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus (Sermon 49, #6), wrote:

 The one has committed many sins, and so is made a debtor for many; the other through God’s guidance has committed but few. To Him to whom the one ascribes what He hath forgiven, does the other also ascribe what he hath not committed. Thou hast not been an adulterer in that past life of thine, which was full of ignorance, when as yet thou wast not enlightened, as yet discerned not good and evil, as yet believed not on Him, who was guiding thee though thou didst not know Him. Thus doth thy God speak to thee: “I was guiding thee for Myself, I was keeping thee for Myself. That thou mightest not commit adultery, no enticers were near thee; that no enticers were near thee, was My doing. Place and time were wanting; that they were wanting again, was My doing. Or enticers were nigh thee, and neither place nor time was wanting; that thou mightest not consent, it was I who alarmed thee. Acknowledge then His grace, to whom thou also owest it, that thou hast not committed the sin. The other owes me what was done, and thou hast seen forgiven him; and thou owest to me what thou hast not done.” For there is no sin which one man commits, which another man may not commit also, if He be wanting as a Director, by whom man was made.

(Augustine of Hippo, “Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament,” in Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. R. G. MacMullen, vol. 6, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 417–418.)

I think of this when I see some of the reactions to Pope Francis and Bishops reaching out to sinners showing up in the comments made on Facebook and in blog comboxes. There are some people who get offended when they speak of mercy, trying to reach out to the sinner and bring them back. The objections made by these people seem to run along the lines of offering any outreach to the sinner is offering sanction to the sins committed.

Now, of course we must not dismiss as “not evil” that which God as decreed as evil. When one calls evil good, they do great wrong (see Isaiah 5:20). But when they don’t promote accepting evil as OK, but instead express compassion for the sinner, then their actions are not sanctioning sin and it is wrong to make such an accusation.

We need to remember the stories of Zacchaeus, the woman taken in adultery, the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector. In these stories we see Jesus interacting with the sinner. Not to condemn, but to each out to to lead them to salvation.

We can never write off any individual as being irredeemable. God can soften the most hardened heart, and when we meet the heartened sinner, we cannot know that he or she has refused the gift of grace. He or she might never have felt the call yet. Those of us who are seeking to be faithful to Christ must realize that our fidelity is not do to our own cleverness, but to His grace.

See, behaving in this way towards sinners doesn’t mean we deny the reality of sin. It means we don’t give up on them because God has not given up on them. How are we to know that the notorious sinner will not be converted and saved?

So just something to think of.

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