Seventy-one years ago today (20th Nov 1945) the Nuremberg Trials began in Germany, bringing to justice the Nazi military figures who committed such atrocious crimes against humanity in WWII. A day of reckoning. A day of victory for millions of victims and their families. A day of justice.
This morning (20th Nov 2016) Pope Francis closed the Holy door at St. Peter’s Basilica, commemorating the end of a year celebrating forgiveness, during which the door was left open as a symbol of these values. The Pope urged us as human beings not to shut the door on reconciliation in our lives. A day celebrating mercy.
So the 20th November is a day that Justice & Mercy collide. And they belong together.
One operating without the other creates an unbalanced set of scales that cannot bring true wholeness to humanity – individually or in community. Such scales will tip, totter and fall.
A justice system without mercy is just a punishment system. The giving of mercy without punishment doesn’t do justice to the crime that is committed.
I once worked at a low security prison in southern England – where prisoners would walk around freely, going between day jobs on-site, and travelling off-site to work on a day-release basis. This trust-giving process is a crucial part of a redeeming a prisoner from years of punishment behind them, to the years of positive citizenship ahead of them. I soon forgot that the men emptying our bins and vacuuming our office floors were murderers. It was just daily life and work; for us and for them. But it was more than that – it was mercy following in the footsteps of justice.
Working at the prison freed me from my own incarceration – of prejudice towards those behind bars. They were just blokes, like me, capable of good and evil, capable of changing, or choosing not to.
We all need justice in our lives, because we all get it wrong, but we need consequences.
We all need mercy in our lives, because we all get it wrong, but need redeeming.
We all need justice and mercy, hand-in-hand, in order to flourish. And we must embody these values to our common man or woman, whether friend or foe.