A paradox is two things that seem to be contradictory but which are both true at the same time. Jesus is divine and human. Mary is a mother and a virgin. The Eucharist is bread and wine and is the Body and Blood of Christ. Our faith is filled with paradoxes.
One of the most perplexing paradoxes, for many people, is that God is both just and merciful. We want God to be just when we have been wounded by another, but we want Him to be merciful when we have hurt someone else. Too many people try to make God either just or merciful but cannot hold both of these together. The story of the woman caught in adultery, the Gospel for this Sunday, shows us both.
Jesus encounters a group of men who have in their midst a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery. (Interestingly, as it is impossible to commit adultery by oneself, we have to wonder where the man is. Why isn’t he facing this terrible humiliation and fear?) The men are about to stone her to death, which the Old Testament Law allowed. Seeing Jesus, they ask what He thinks should be done. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” This seems to have stunned the crowd, and they lay down their stones, and wander away.
Then, Jesus says to the woman, “Where have they gone? Is there no one here to condemn you?” She replied, “No one, Sir.” Jesus, the one who was without sin and had the right to throw the first stone, said, “Neither do I condemn you.” This is mercy! When someone who is guilty is set free from their guilt and from the punishment due to them for their guilt. This is what Jesus came to bring us. Mercy. Pope Francis has said that “Mercy is the name of God.”
And yet, Jesus said to her, “Go, and do not sin anymore.” Mercy is offered, but for it to be received, their must be repentance and conversion. This is God’s justice. There is no sin God will not forgive, if we are truly sorry and sincerely intend to avoid that sin in the future. This is called a “firm purpose of amendment.” I firmly intend not to commit this sin again.
God is both just and merciful, and His justice is one expression of His mercy, and His mercy is one expression of His justice.
–Fr. Mike Comer