November 23, Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
A couple of years ago, I was responsible for organizing an event at our parish that featured a well-known guest speaker.
I picked him up at the airport and was driving him to the parish hall when I noticed a most unwelcome sight in my rear view mirror: the flashing lights of a policeman’s squad car.
Chagrined and embarrassed, I realized that our conversation had distracted me from a familiar school zone and its speed limit sign. I pulled over and braced myself for a stiff (and well-deserved) penalty.
What happened next still amuses me. When the officer inquired about my hurry, my companion, a Bible teacher, explained the reason for his visit. In response, the officer asked him, “Tell me: In this situation, should I show justice or mercy?” Without missing a beat, I replied, “But of course -- mercy!” The officer laughed and waved me on with a warning to be more vigilant about my speed.
I recall that incident in light of this Sunday’s readings which illuminate the authority of Jesus Christ as King.
Many people hold an attitude that emphasizes a false dichotomy between the punitive, wrathful judge of the Old Testament and the meek, docile Lord of the 23rd Psalm.
But the Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel dispels that ancient heresy. As one with dominion over all things, Jesus exercises his authority in a rather paradoxical fashion. In his reign, justice and mercy are distinctive and yet the same.
Jesus’ judgment is not the meting out of arbitrary punishment or the imposition of penalties for breaking the rules. Rather, he judges justly by separating the sick from the self-sufficient, the injured and weak from the conceited and arrogant, the sheep from the goats.
He exposes sin and death as the destructive foes of goodness, kindness, and abundant life -- reigning until those enemies are put under his feet. He teaches us that the ultimate criterion of justice is, in fact, the demonstration of mercy toward the least of his brothers and sisters.
The patrol officer’s unexpected leniency that day brought a welcome source of relief and a reminder to be more careful in the future. It also demonstrated the exercise of authority as a vehicle of mercy despite what the traffic code warranted. But then, when is mercy ever deserved?
This column is offered in cooperation with The North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.