By Melba Maggay, President ISACC (Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture). Melba Maggay is based in the Philippines.
What does it take to uphold the law and at the same time show mercy?
In the story of the hanging of Jesus, we see how even then, justice gets derailed when indifferent officials like Pilate merely wash their hands and give in to popular demands.
At the same time, we are told that such a miscarriage of justice happened under the sovereign will and plan of God.
In this spectacle of Jesus hanging painfully on the cross, we wonder: why did God have to do this to his own son in order to forgive? Why could he not merely issue from heaven a decree granting a general amnesty for all who wish to be pardoned of their sins?
Each year, we behold the reenactment of the passion of Christ. What does it mean – this sight of a battered, beaten Jew accused of political subversion and given over by his own people to the indifferent and inexorable judicial process of a foreign power?
Unknown to the Romans and even to the Jews themselves, Jesus was actually dying, not for the merely political charge of laying claim to being ‘King of the Jews’ – a potential threat to the colonial rule of the Caesars -- but for a deeper, more universally human longing: the cry for justice.
There on the cross, we are told, he was absorbing the punishment due for every crime and every dark deed that has ever been done. He was paying the price for all the pain that has ever been suffered and every tear that has ever been shed.
For centuries, Israel through its sacrificial system had been taught the idea that blood must be shed to turn away the wrath of a God who is roused and grieves over all the wrongs done on the face of the earth.
In some vague way, all cultures know this darkly. We kill a white cock, there on a hill under the pale light of the moon, or slaughter cows and pigs to divine from their entrails the cause of a pestilence or some sickness that ravages the land. We know that some power somewhere needs to be appeased.
“The soul that sins, it shall die,” we are told. It is this death that Jesus died. He died the death we all deserve so that we may live.
On the cross, justice and mercy meet. God himself fulfilled the requirements of retribution, the meting out of the full penalty demanded by the law for all transgressors. For “without the shedding of blood,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “there is no forgiveness.” ( Heb. 9:22 )
Forgiveness is costly. It is well worth remembering when we are tempted to just sweep things under the rug, and gloss over wrongdoing under pressure of having to show fellow-feeling or a false sense of bonhomie.
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