By Carmina M. Chapp
Special to The CS&T
Justice demands that Jesus, the innocent victim, give His whole life in reparation for sin. In Simon and Veronica, we see a glimpse of mercy.
In pressing Simon of Cyrene into service, the Roman soldiers show mercy to Jesus. In this act, they take away part of the just punishment by having someone else bear the burden of carrying the cross. They may not have thought of it as mercy. It may have simply been a practical measure to ensure that Jesus did not die on the way to Calvary. But it is mercy, nonetheless.
They see Jesus is physically unable to carry the cross, and they relieve Him of the responsibility. The just punishment for sin is eliminated by mercy.
Jesus blesses the soldiers for their act of mercy toward Him. From the cross, He asks His Father to forgive them. One of them even receives the gift of faith and is able to proclaim at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”
Veronica also shows mercy to Jesus. The cloth on His face brought some relief of His pain, but the love she showed Him brought even more joy to His heart. She wanted to relieve His suffering, take away the just punishment, even if only in this small way that she was able. Jesus blesses her, too, with the image of His Holy Face on her veil.
We are reminded that mercy is for the guilty. These are considered acts of mercy because the just punishment for sin is death. Jesus appreciates the mercy shown Him because he is experiencing first hand the just punishment for sin – our sin. It is His mission to suffer this punishment for the salvation of souls and to bring about reconciliation between God and sinful humanity.
Our just punishment for sin is death. In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), we hear the priest say, “Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.” If only we realized what we truly deserve, we would be better able to appreciate God’s mercy toward us.
In the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18: 21-35), Jesus teaches us how we need to be grateful for God’s mercy, and show that gratefulness by being merciful to others. In the story, a king eliminates the just punishment for his servant’s inability to repay a debt, only to find that same servant demanding the just punishment of another for the same offense. The king is furious. He withdraws his mercy and imposes an even harsher punishment.
As we come to know the magnitude of mercy given to us through the cross of Christ, we are moved to be more merciful toward others. A failure to be merciful is a failure to appreciate the mercy given. Being merciful does not in any way imply we are not concerned with justice. In fact, we can only be merciful if we can identify what the just punishment is.
Our desire to be merciful is a sign of our desire for the salvation of souls, God’s own desire. We become less concerned that someone “gets what they deserve” and more concerned that they know the love of God and are moved to repent for their sin.
As we make our examinations of conscience and confess our sins this Lent, let us take some time to meditate on the power of God’s mercy that will pour forth to us through the sacrament. Let us open our hearts to receiving all that God wants to give to us, and allow this love and mercy to change us, transform us into a more loving, more merciful people.
Dr. Carmina M. Chapp is a former director of the Religious Studies spanision of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.