Merciful Judge

By Tom Bair

A Reading from the Gospel of John 8:12-20

12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” 13 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid, for it is not I alone who judge but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.” 19 Then they said to him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.


Without some kind of justice, there is little hope to be had in this wicked world. Judging by most any human standards is, to one extent or another, an unsatisfying prospect. The systems of justice we live by are various, but all fall short.

Our human administration of justice, while principled, is flawed. It is just as flawed as our human nature. The justice system itself is riddled with injustices based on class, race, gender, and wealth. If you have a lower social status, or if you are a person of color, you are statistically more likely to be wrongly convicted. If you are male in a divorce proceeding you can expect to be placed under extra burdens in that system. If you are wealthy you can hire legal talent that will better represent you, greatly increasing the chances of getting a favorable outcome to the matter in court.

Thank God, there is coming the day when we will stand before the living embodiment of justice, the one who will give a true judgment, the one against whom we will be judged. Our eternal destiny will hang in the balance. Who can stand before him without guilt? Answer: no-one!

Fortunately, he will judge from the seat of divine mercy. God says that mercy is just, mercy is justice.

This agrees with our Lord’s teaching, and with the Church’s tradition of “works of mercy.” Works of mercy are of two kinds, corporal and spiritual. The corporal are: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, forbearance to those who wrong us, forgiveness of offenses, comforting the afflicted, and praying for those living and those deceased.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” said our Lord in the Beatitudes.

Tom Bair serves as a lay leader in the Episcopal Church. He teaches stewardship and holds an Education for Ministry (EFM) practicum from the University of the South. He is married to the Rt. Rev. Gerry Wolf.

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