Friday in the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Tim 1:1-2,12-14; Lk 6:39-42]
Justice is not fair. Fair is about balance, justice is about harmony. "Be like little children," says Jesus, but also "be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful." Children are experts on what is fair: "That is not fair", they scream, and you know they are always right. Children know instinctively when things are out of balance. But they have little sense of the delicacy of the harmonious, which is justice's realm, justice whose inseparable consort is mercy. The mercy of our Father in heaven is the harmony of justice, which is not fair.
Yesterday we heard what might be the best known teaching of Jesus: "Love your enemies." And we hear the heart of Christian ethics: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Of course there is nothing fair about either of these propositions. Do to others as they do to you is fair; hate your enemies is fair. The Gospel, which is justice, is all out of balance; children scream, "It is not fair!"
"To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other as well." No wonder, as it has been said, that for Nietzsche Jesus not only gave in to brute force, but also inspired generations of simpering soft masochistic saints. If anything deserved to be labelled brute force it was the hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11/01. Far from giving in or turning the other cheek, President Bush led the nation into a retaliatory response that has turned most of the world into an endlessly renewed aftermath of that original 9/11, so that 9/11 has never known a sunset. "It was only fair," any child would tell you.
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you." Have the limits beyond which this central Christian message fails been disclosed by 9/11?
Today, the blind leading the blind. Note that the blind leading the blind is perfectly balanced and fair, but will not both fall into a pit? Two evil forces, fairly balanced, can only result in the victory of evil or, as my old mother would say, "two wrongs don't make a right." Is this truth what the 9/11 memorial in New York is saying, intentionally or not? For there, there are two immense abysses of steel and granite into which water endlessly descends in clear sheets, balanced recessing in the earth sucking in water like hope.
Jesus's teaching is not the balance of fairness but the harmony of justice and mercy. A speck in my brother's eye, a beam in my own, the result is the same distorted vision. Remove the beam, the stage is set for peace.
The laborers of the first hour will always be screaming "Not fair" when they see the laborers of the eleventh paid the same wage as they. We are helpless, maybe, in the face of something like 9/11, of something like ISIS, but not so helpless in the face of very local attacks on our self-esteem, on our sense of fairness, in the face of betrayal, disappointment, and the temperament of our neighbor. Let us be thrown off balance: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, and, outdo one another in showing honor. The meeting of mercy and faithfulness, the kiss of justice and peace.