The Common Good
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Senseless Mercy

This week brings the return of "ordinary time." Far from ordinary, however, is the church's day-to-day struggle with how to live the gospel and the call to discipleship, individually and as community. Free from the drama and passion of extraordinary time, ordinary time brings the opportunity to meet God on different terms and in unexpected ways.

For both the Jewish and Christian traditions, the theme of forgiveness is one of the most difficult. There is a fine line between justice and mercy, and we humans struggle endlessly with how, when, and if to extend each, as if they are mutually exclusive. Fortunately, we worship a God who loves justice and mercy equally, and who lavishes both upon us as we ask and need.

The readings reflect God's interaction with Israel and their struggle to remain faithful to the covenant, despite Israel's continued idolatry and betrayal. Worshipping the false gods of power and lust brings evil to the house of Ahab, Jezebel, and David—in the alternate Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15)—and God promises justice. When Ahab and David repent, however, God changes his mind and delays punishment. It is as if God can't help but extend mercy, despite the requirements of justice.

In Luke, we witness an even more bountiful and senseless extension of mercy. Once more, Luke's central focus is a woman, who immediately recognizes Jesus as Messiah and does not hesitate to act. Luke does not name the woman's sins, nor does Jesus ask or seem to care. Overwhelmed by the "great love" she has shown, Jesus admonishes the Pharisee who "did not give me a kiss" and "did not anoint my head with oil" (Luke 7:45-47), but stands aloof, judging and analyzing Jesus before he dares to act.

It is nearly impossible for most of us to comprehend a God who forgives without merit, who loves us anyway, who keeps calling us home to the fullness of life that only God can give. During this ordinary time, however, we have the chance to risk great love, instead of standing aloof in judgment. Perhaps we, too, can yield the fruits of forgiveness and know the great love to which we are invited.

Michaela Bruzzese was a free-lance writer living in Chile when this article appeared.