The Journey series
This week's Mustard Seed examines justice. Justice is good but not sufficient. Justice exists between individuals. Just as no man can be truly autonomous, neither can justice exist isolated from other goods.
The fundamental good that precedes all else is to be. Without being, all else is moot. We can't autonomously bring our self to be – we exist by the grace of God, our mother, and our father. For our first nine months we live inside our mother's womb and are completely dependent on her. For the next several years we are dependent on our community, primarily our family. We observe and mimic those around us. Those around us observe our progress and form us according to the talents they recognize in us. Original actions or thoughts are extremely rare. When they do occur, they are interpolated or extrapolated from observations of that which lies outside our self.
Despite the current demand for autonomy, no one truly wants it. Rather, we each produce an abundance in areas we excel, contribute our excess to a common pool, and draw from the common pool according to our needs and desires. We are considered independent once our level of production meets or exceeds our level of consumption.
That independence, however, is dependent on a sufficiently functional society. Ideally, all needs will be satisfied and there will be an equitable distribution of what remains. Our society relies primarily on a mix of free market, taxation, and regulation.
The free market recognizes the right of ownership by individuals. Wealth is created by applying effort to resources and ideas to change their form and/or their location. Wealth is consumed by existence and recreation. Every individual is free to keep, consume, or trade their possessions or effort as they choose. Value is set by mutual agreement between the giver and receiver.
Taxation pays for common goods such as administration, education, transportation networks, water and power distribution, etc.
Regulations promote communal benefit and curb abuse. Because some costs and benefits accrue not to individuals, but to the community, equitable transactions can't be fairly determined solely by the individuals directly involved. For example, we all share our environment. It is the concern of the whole community who extracts how much of which resource from where, and in what manner. How will the resource be sustained? What compensation is due to the community? How and where may waste be disposed of? Some regulations restrict monopoly and collusion from distorting supply and demand, while others purposely distort supply and demand to compensate for local anomalies. Other regulations codify socially acceptable behaviour.
These things, when properly conceived and applied, create a just society. But justice is not enough. Even the most just society cannot flourish without love. Justice is transactional, good given for good received. Love is charitable, good given for the sake of the other.
No society can survive without charity. Continuance begins with the free gift of each spouse to the other in the conjugal act. A mother bears nine months of gestation with no thought of recompense from her child. Parents nurture their children without counting a return. What manner of citizen would emerge from an upbringing absent their parents' love? How could the physically or mentally challenged, the sick or disabled, or the young and the elderly survive without charity from the community? How could anyone survive the vagaries of life without the ebb and flow of charity?
Likewise, no society can survive without mercy. None of us are perfect. Each of us fails at times and needs mercy. Look at the frenzy of cancel culture. Statue after statue is toppled at the discovery of one fault. All the good done by our heroes is negated by one misstep. Who would remain standing under such scrutiny of their own life? Not me. All would be outcasts. Can we not celebrate their virtues while acknowledging and learning from their errors.
We travel many crooked roads to reach our destination. If we find potholes in the road, we do not erase it from the map. We patch the potholes. If we simply erase our forbearers from history we will be left wandering. We will be doomed to repeat their errors. We can't chart a proper course unless we know where we are, where we've been, and how we got here. Mercy does not condone or excuse bad actions. It recognizes and seeks to amend imperfection.
God created us from love for love. Yes, justice is good and necessary. But it is not sufficient. It must be tempered by love. Justice divorced from charity and mercy begets tyranny and chaos.
Next week: What is Marriage?
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?”
They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
Peter T Elliott