I am a Christian because I trust that when I confess my short comings and deserve justice, I get more than mercy, I get grace.
Justice: Getting what we deserve.
When you work, your employer pays you a fair wage. If someone hurts you, they pay for your care. And if you break the law, you get an appropriate punishment.
Mercy: Not getting what we deserve.
Mercy is like justice. You know what you did was wrong, and got caught, but the punishment was waived. Or perhaps you agreed to one wage and received more than you expected.
The Gospel of John tells of a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) who received mercy. Justice demanded stoning. But she was sent home and cautioned not to sin again.
The Gospel of Matthew records a parable of a generous landowner who pays all his laborers the same wage, despite that some work far fewer hours than a full day’s work (Matthew 20:1-16). This parable shows the problem with mercy, those who receive less, get upset.
In both of these stories, I wonder what happens the next day to the woman excused from her adultery or the laborers paid for more hours than they worked. How would the community treat them? How long would suspicions and grumbling continue?
Grace: Getting restored in spite of what we deserve.
Grace takes mercy a step further. Those responsible for judgement know what misdeeds have happened. The scales of justice stay out of balance, but community is restored.
John’s Gospel also tells of a woman who meets Jesus at a well in the middle of the day (John 4:5-30). Jesus knows she has had five husbands and her current partner. Does she come to the well in the heat of the day to avoid the stares and name calling from other women who would have come early in the morning and just before sundown? Would the other women fear she would steal their husbands? Yet after meeting Jesus she returns to town and invites others to meet him. This is grace.
When have you restored someone to community?