When we spend time reading the Gospels, we will encounter in them that the God of Jesus Christ is a God of justice, yes, but a justice that is tempered with mercy and love, a restorative justice, not a punitive justice. God invites us to be in communion with him and one another, and to answer that call requires a transformation, a change of heart and mind. Jesus meets people where they are, accepts them as they are, while at the same time holding a mirror up to them to show how what they are doing is keeping them from the very reality of communion with his Father that they seek.
One example can be seen when Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well and asked her for a drink. What followed from that simple, while at the same time profound request, led to her humble confession that she did not have a husband to which Jesus responded: “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Jesus spoke to a woman and a Samaritan in public, two things that were not done in his time as it was against societal norms.
Jesus recognized the distinction, but saw instead and foremost, a human being created in the image and likeness of God. He saw a woman isolated, close to the point of being ostracized from her community, for who else would come by themselves to fetch water in the full heat of the day? What he shared with her was acceptance, as he spoke to her as a person. Because of her honesty, humility, and courage, what transpired over the course of the conversation was not only her transformation but the redemption of her whole community. This transpired because, with joy and courage, she proclaimed the Good News even to those that kept her at arm’s leg, and on the margins (cf. Jn 4:1-12).
Another encounter happened with Saul who was present and oversaw the stoning of St Stephen and continued his zealous persecution of the followers of Jesus. On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered the risen Jesus, who met him with the words: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me” (Acts 9:4)? Again, as with the woman at the well, Jesus greeted Saul with a simple but profound question which had a tremendous effect on him. Saul too was transformed from a persecutor of the Way to a follower of the Word. He would not only change his name to Paul and proclaim the Gospel to a community but to the Mediterranean world.
In today’s Gospel, Peter, who had betrayed Jesus three times, encountered Jesus who also posed a question, but this time asking it three times: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (cf. Jn 21:15-19). With these simple, questions and Peter’s affirmative responses of yes, Jesus forgave Peter for betraying him. Peter went forward to proclaim boldly the life of Jesus at the feast of Pentecost, and three thousand were moved by his words and sought to become part of the Way of Jesus.
In each encounter Jesus experienced with the Samaritan woman, Paul, and Peter, he met each of them, not with condemnation or judgment, but with love and mercy. He met them on their level and then offered them a look in the mirror by asking a simple question. Jesus sought to draw them out of their own false senses of self and sin, and into the love of God. Each person answered with truth and humility, and willingly looked at their life, turned away from their sin and accepted the invitation of Jesus to lead them to a change of heart and mind.
The justice of God is not about the punitive measure, about rubbing our noses in our own sin. Yet, if we choose our own sin over the love of God’s healing transformation, it may feel punitive, because God will allow us to feel the effects of our decisions. God gives us another choice. He has sent his Son to show us the path of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Jesus echoes Hosea 6:6 when he is recorded as saying, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Jesus comes to us, as he came to the Samaritan woman, Paul, and Peter, who were able to receive the healing of Jesus because they acknowledged their sin.
When we make some time for prayer and spend some time in silence today, let us allow ourselves to see Jesus approaching us or sitting with us. What simple, yet transformative question does he ask that reveals to us our sin, how we are keeping ourselves at a distance from God? In what way do we need to change our hearts and minds? When we choose to leave behind our false self, our pride and our ego, and instead respond with humility and contrition, true sorrow for our sins, as did the Samaritan woman, Paul, and Peter, we will be healed, transformed, and empowered to go forth to share the Good News of the love and mercy we experienced with God.
Photo: Close up of Heinrich Hoffman’s Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, 1889