FROM THE SERVANT GENERAL
OUR THEME FOR 2016
MERCY AND PUNISHMENT
March 1, 2016
We have been saying that mercy is forgoing the punishment that is justly deserved. This was manifested by the king toward his servant, when rather than having him and his family sold in payment of his debt, “moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.” (Mt 18:27).
Now mercy is not given just for its own sake, but for the purpose of bringing a person back or in from the darkness. Mercy is an invitation to repentance. Oftentimes, a sinner needs to experience chastisement in order to be brought to repentance. This is why Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego could confidently pray to God: “deal with us in your kindness and mercy.” (Dn 3:42). But what had God done to His people? “You have handed us over to our enemies” (Dn 3:32a). Why? “For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil.” (Dn 3:29). They sinned and they were punished, precisely because of God’s mercy. It was God’s way to bring them back, the way of justice and punishment. “You have executed proper judgments in all that you have brought upon us …. By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins” (Dn 3:28).
Mercy does not just exist by itself. Rather, it exists in relation to sin. People are sinful, and God in relation to sinners is merciful. “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore he shows sinners the way” (Ps 25:8). God looks at sin and sees that the only way out for sinners is by His mercy. In sinning against God, we are like the servant who owed a huge debt to the king; “he had no way of paying it back” (Mt 18:25a). What is the way out then? It is for the creditor to condone the debt (Mt 18:27). This is mercy. This is why David could pray with confidence: “Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me according to your mercy, because of your goodness, Lord.” (Ps 25:7).
Now since God is merciful to us, He expects us to be merciful to others. If in God’s mercy we escape punishment, in our lack of mercy to others we will merit punishment. This is what happened to the servant whose debt was condoned, but who could not do for another servant what the master had done for him. The debt here was “a much smaller amount” (Mt 18:28), the other servant begged for time to be able to pay, as he had also done with the master, but unlike the master who reversed his decision to sell him, his family and all his property, he had his fellow servant imprisoned. The master was angry at this and took back the debt condonation, and “handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.” (Mt 18:34).
So Jesus tells us, “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” As the master told the unforgiving servant, “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” (Mt 18:33). We receive mercy, we extend mercy. If not, the consequences will be severe. We will have to undergo the fullness of just punishment for our sins. “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Mt 18:35).
We are to forgive others for the sins they commit against us. How many times? Peter thought he was generous as he suggested seven times. Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:22). In other words, without limit. We are fortunate that God’s mercy and forgiveness are unlimited. “Remember your compassion and your mercy, O Lord, for they are ages old.” (Ps 25:6). We will do well to also remember that we are to be compassionate and merciful.
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