Choosing Between Mercy and Judgment

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72: 1-2. 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“Slay the wicked.”  “Crush the oppressor.”  “Coming wrath.”  “Unquenchable fire.”  In today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptist use some strong language about God’s impending judgment and wrath.  And I like it. 

I would not mind seeing some hardcore divine judgment fall upon people who perpetrate evil in our world.  I am tired of reading in the news about hungry children, homeless families, corrupt politicians, war-torn countries, and corporate greed.  I am angry that the strong and influential exploit the weak and unknown.  How long, O Lord, until the oppressors are crushed and the wicked are slain?

However, contrary to Isaiah, John the Baptist, and my own deeply flawed heart, judgment and wrath are not the way of Jesus or the God he proclaimed.

Through Jesus, we see that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  God overwhelms all of us with love that exceeds our ability to sin – that is mercy!  It is not asked for or deserved, but freely and lavishly given.  Judgment and wrath bring only sadness and death into our world, not life – and our God is one of abundant life.  Mercy brings true justice and wholeness into our world.   

What does this mean to us?  As Catholic LGBT people and allies, we can create a more inclusive Church by welcoming God’s abundant mercy into our own hearts, and then by sharing that love with others–particularly with those fellow Catholics who may say disparaging things or create discriminatory policies against LGBT people.  It is our own experience of undeserved mercy that compels us to generously extend mercy to others. 

For example, if a bishop or pastor condemns marriage equality, I think denouncing him as a bigot who hates lesbian and gay people is not consistent with what Jesus taught.  Our culture encourages us to attack those who disagree with us, but angry words and vitriol will only magnify and perpetuate the mistrust and rancor in our Church.  Instead, perhaps we should focus on building relationships – invite the bishop or pastor to have coffee or lunch to share our stories.  Send him a Christmas card with a family photo.  If he keeps us at arm’s length, we should keep the doors open by periodically reaching out to him.  Our task is to build bridges rather than throw stones. 

Our loving witness and patient invitation to dialogue will give others the opportunity to experience God’s mercy – and possibly change their hearts about LGBT people.  We pursue justice for LGBT people by changing hearts through showing mercy in personal interactions, not through judgment and wrath.

There is power in mercy.  As we continue our Advent preparations, perhaps we can reflect on how God’s “mercy triumphs over justice” in our own lives – and how we can show mercy to others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry

6 replies
  1. Thomas Smith
    Thomas Smith says:

    Went to hear John Carr (NCR) speak at Seton hall this week and he said "Mercy" is Pope Francis' "signature phrase" , so this piece reminded me that, even though we have been seriously wounded by our Church, we must do our part to practice this virtue which "fall with like the gentle rain..."

  2. Chris Thomas
    Chris Thomas says:

    Thank you, Matt, for these provocative and sensitive words. It is so easy to react defensively to injustices, but so much harder to respond with mercy and love. I appreciate the wake-up call, especially at this Christmas season when our hearts are perhaps a little more open to the example Jesus brought to our hurting world.

  3. duckman44625
    duckman44625 says:

    I am sorry to disagree with todays post. Yes – show compassion to the PERSON who denigrates LGBT persons – but at the same time, his/her vitriolic words must be confronted and challenged with “ad hominum” attacks. Christ Himself stood up to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees = openly condemning their attitudes without condemning the person. Your words bespeak a milk toast approach. While it is true that some homophobes – religious and lay – have such an attitude owing to lack of knowledge or familiarity with LGBT persons, the majority just have a blind hatred of a community they do not understand because of refusal to explore their feelings and thoughts – they merely perpetuate the hateful attitudes they have been taught by family, society and main source of hateful rejection – organized religion with Catholicism being the worst. Witness the failure of the majority of American bishops to follow the lead of Francis I in embracing ALL people. Sexual orientation is not about sex – it is about interpersonal relationships- Francu=is I was clear on that. Namaste

  4. Ryan Sattler
    Ryan Sattler says:

    Great message. Mercy vs. Judgement. Can we have it both ways as followers of Jesus…Judgement and Mercy? It’s hard to say this but I don’t think so. As we celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, his lack of judgement and his life of mercy and forgiveness speaks for its self.


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