The story of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21: 1-21a) is, among other things, a classic case of injustice. People who have wealth and power use their wealth and power to get what they want – even if it means taking the life of an innocent person.
This is something that was certainly no unique to the 10th Century B.C., unfortunately, it happens everyday in many different ways.
It can be as simple as a drug-crazed addict shooting someone to get enough cash for his next fix, or as complicated as the financial conspiracies that have driven thousands of people from their homes or multinational corporations that have wreaked havoc both on our environment and on the lives of countless people.
Something inside us cries out for justice, for some kind of forgiveness out of all the evil that has been done, some way of rectifying the wrong.
In the face of evil deeds, we want to see justice done. But what is justice? Is it an eye for an eye? A tooth for a tooth? A life for a life?
Will punishing Ahab and Jezebel bring Naboth back to life and restore the vineyard? Or will it just satisfy our human thirst for revenge?
An example: there was an execution in Utah. A man convicted of murder back in 1985 was executed by a firing squad. Utah’s attorney general tweeted about it an hour before: “A solemn day. Barring a stay by Sup Ct, and with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power and execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice.”
That is our idea of justice, but it doesn’t bring anyone back. And what if we are wrong? You know the story of Ray Krone from Dover, twice convicted of a murder in Arizona, 10 years in prison, 4 on death row, then exonerated by DNA evidence, where is his justice?
And suppose, just for a moment, that you are part of a group that was ripped from their homes and sent into a foreign land to work as slaves, with little or no opportunity for obtaining your freedom.
What would justice look like to you? Punishment for your captors? Or just your freedom? What if your life savings were wiped out by the greedy? What if you lost your home because you could no longer make the mortgage payments? What if you were falsely accused of a crime you did not commit? What would justice look like? Revenge? Righting of wrongs? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? What if you really were guilty of some infraction? Some evil deed?
I remember a fellow clergy telling me how he was stopped by police on his way to work. There was a great relief when all that was issued was a warning. Apparently the officers showed mercy. Makes one ponder. A classic example closer to home is the recent shooting of the Zimbabwean national who made a U-turn before a road in attempt to evade the law. Perhaps the officer accused of shooting him did not shoot with the intent to kill. But the matter now is that the officer, who acted while on duty, is now in custody with no option for bail. Many would say justice should take its course, and the officer deserves to stay behind bars.
While on the other side of the coin, others would say he, despite the unfortunate turnout of events, he was only doing his job. Do we apply justice or mercy?
Utah’s attorney general then, again tweeted: “I just gave the go ahead to correctional director to proceed with Gardener’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.”
So where does mercy feature in all this? Is it only in the province of God? Or is it something we should be practising as well?
First of all, we need to be clear about what God’s mercy is. It is not simply a detachment, uncaring indifference, which just ignores what goes on in the life of the world.
On the contrary, God’s mercy is an active involvement in the lives of God’s people, actively, intentionally trying to make things right, to bring us back to where we belong. (Luke 7:36-48)
Shouldn’t we, then, who receive God’s mercy, be doing the same thing?
It really isn’t the opposite of justice, but it is justice at its best, an active involvement in the lives of God’s people, trying to make things right.
It is about forgiveness, about reconciliation, about moving beyond the hurts and the wrongs of the past, about building a future in which things will be put right. So you see, justice and mercy turn out to be two sides of the same coin. The Goal of both is the same – making things right, not by revenge and punishment but by forgiveness and reconciliation.
And building on that we can reach out and touch other lives with the same kind of active making things right, which involves both mercy and justice. There are some people out there, people who need to be constrained from hurting others. But even they deserve some measure of mercy as we do.
That’s where it begins, recognising our own need for mercy, for God to actively, intentionally come into our lives to make things right.
* Reverend Jan. A. Scholtz is a holder of Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from Unisa. This article is written in his personal capacity.
2019-07-10 09:40:39 12 days ago