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Searching For Justice & Mercy…

February 27, 2016


The other evening when Denise and I came home from church, We saw a large herd of Rocky Mountain Mule Deer near our condo. I snapped some quick pictures on my iPhone before getting my Canon to take closeups. I watched several members of the herd grazing on our side of the road and then carefully making their way across the road to the open range land across from our condo.

Watching the herd and watching the drivers who were on the road, I noticed how careful each was. The drivers and the deer were both very cognizant of each other. In a very carefully choreographed dance, the cars would stop or the deer would stop until both parties had passed without incident. Growing up in Minnesota, I would often see deer carcasses on the side of the road and I heard stories about people hitting deer. In fact, the phrase, “like a deer in the headlights” describes someone who is mesmerized by the lights or by something and walks blindly into it. The deer in Minnesota would be blinded by the light so to speak and run across the road right in front of the cars where they were often killed.

What is the difference between our Minnesota Deer and our Rocky Mountain Deer? I’m not a scientist, but I do wonder how much it has to do with situational awareness on the part of both parties. The motorists (even our visitors) seem to be more cognizant of the wildlife (the signs on the roadways entering Estes Park say watch for wildlife on ALL roads) and our four-legged neighbors seem to be more cognizant as well. Additionally, when you drive slower, you are more aware of your surroundings!

So how does this relate to the readings for the Third Sunday in Lent you might ask? I think it has to do with our search for justice and mercy. Luke 13:1-9 opens with a puzzling story that is told to Jesus. Did you hear “about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices?” (Luke 13:1b CEB) From the response of Jesus it appears that they were asking if the slain Galileans had somehow deserved their fate. Jesus replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans?” (13:2 CEB) It appears that in some sort of warped way, the people were searching for justice. Of course, we also know the sort of justice that was prevalent in those days. Caught in adultery? The woman gets stoned! Your son is a leper? What sin did either your son or you the parents commit to deserve this!

Really? Someone created in the image of God deserves to die or deserves to be struck down  by leprosy by the very God who created them in God’s own image? Seriously? I am guessing that Jesus was slapping his forehead with his hand (that motion is called a Face Palm in the Social Media realm as you can see in the below picture).


After the forehead smack (I sadly know that I am guilty of giving Jesus more than one headache from such a response to my own lunacy) I can almost hear him saying: You think they are more sinful than you and that’s why it happened? Seriously? “No, I tell you, but unless YOU change YOUR hearts and lives, YOU will die just as they did.” (13:3 CEB) Then to prove just how ridiculous their question (and their sense of Justice) was, he gave them an even more ludicrous scenario. “What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem?” (13:4 CEB)

Do you note the gradual escalation of stupidity? Before long it gets to the level of the Westboro Church (they say they are Baptist, but I wouldn’t insult Baptists by saying they are) who say that the death of every member of the US military is because God hates homosexuals! Or to the point where people like Trump and other crazies say that we ought to nuke the whole Middle East because of the actions of radicals who aren’t even real Muslims (any more than Westboro folks are real Christians).

I  believe that the key to getting Jesus’ point is found in verse 5. “No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.” (CEB) Is Jesus saying that any of the folks mentioned deserves to die? I don’t believe he is. He is speaking allegorically.  It isn’t about deserving to die. It is about your heart! Unless you change your hearts! That is the point! Instead of trying to figure out if someone deserved to die (in a perverted sense of justice), how about acting more justly in your own lives? Instead of wondering if they deserved to die because of their sins, how about caring for the survivors, the widows and the orphans?

Then, in an effort to drive the point home, he tells the story about the fig tree. The owner of the vineyard comes to his gardener with a complaint. Look here, I have been coming to this tree for three years to gather fruit from it. In three years I haven’t found a single fig! Throw it into the pit! It deserves to die! It isn’t doing what I want it to do in the exact way that I want it to! To use the words of the above mentioned candidate, and sadly many other people whom I have heard say the same thing thru the years, NUKE IT! Then we hear the gardener (after his own Face Palm) say, really boss? “Give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” (13:8-9) Well, that is a plant, but Jesus is making a strong point that we MUST hear! What you call Justice isn’t Justice! Where in the name of all that is holy is Mercy?

You condemn others to eternal damnation because they don’t match up with your sense of fair play? You demand death when it isn’t your call? In your scenario, not only do they die… you die as well. The way this scenario plays out, there is no justice and there is no mercy. There is, instead, a God of wrath and vengeance who slaughters those made in the image of God indiscriminately.

I believe that Jesus is making a point here. While you knuckleheads are busy trying to figure out who deserves to be nuked, you are missing a MAJOR POINT! What does the Lord require of you? And are YOU God? Instead of focusing on who is in and who is out, why don’t you be like the gardener. Tend the tree that is struggling… care for it… water it… feed it… care for it… maybe with a little more love and a LOT less hate, the plant might just thrive instead of being cut down and tossed into the fire you are stoking in your self-righteous anger!

What would that sort of mercy look like? Well, for one thing, it wouldn’t look like someone chopping down trees and tossing them into the fire. That is where Isaiah 55:1-9 comes into play.

Instead of deciding who deserved to die and why, how about inviting people in. “All of you who are thirsty, come to the water! Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat! Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!” (55:1 CEB) Can you imagine what this country… this world… would look like if we focused more on caring for and loving our neighbor than on building walls to keep them out or saying they need to be nuked? Do you see, dear reader, how ludicrous this sounds? Especially from people who say they are Christians?!

Jesus used a crazy allegory like the fig tree to prove a point. Stop focusing on who deserves to be damned based on your own interpretation of selected passages of scripture taken out of context! What is the summary of the Law? Read Micah 6:8! Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with God! You want the summary? It isn’t an eye for an eye that’s for sure… that will only leave the whole world blind! In addition to Micah 6:8, try this summary of the Law… Love God, Love Neighbor… Love EVERY Neighbor!

My friends, what I hear on Social Media, around this country, and in Presidential debates scares the hell out of me! And they say they are following Christ? Justice isn’t Nuke them until they glow. Justice isn’t fry them because they deserve it. Justice isn’t any of that at all. Justice should be restorative. Just like the gardener asked the master for another year to try and restore the tree so that it could bear fruit.  Justice, in the end, must be tempered with mercy. If you claim that mercy for yourself, then you MUST claim it for and share it with your neighbor. EVERY neighbor! “Let them return to the Lord so that he may have mercy on them, to our God because he is generous with forgiveness.” (55:7 CEB)

As the Lord said through his prophet Isaiah… “My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans.” (55:8-9 CEB)

Dear reader, I urge you… I implore you… I beg you… be a difference for God in this world. As Saint Francis of Assisi prayed… Where there is hatred, let us sow love… where this injury, pardon… where there is despair, hope… where there is doubt, faith… where there is darkness, light… where there is sadness, joy. This is what the world needs… instead of hatred, bigotry, racism, and fear… we can… we must… be a difference for the love of God!

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