Preferential Option for the Penitent
Published on July 28-29, 2012 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
If LA Law and Boston Legal were to be believed, all that anyone would need to win a case in a court of law is an attorney with savvy oratorical skills. Someone like Denny Crane could convince a jury that the most stable person had been temporarily insane, that a criminal had only been guilty of being innocent, that no one could make up his mind on a charge until he had made his closing argument. A lawyer like him would defend his client at all costs and somehow make even blind justice take a second look at his claim.
Yet, justice is more than just about the skills of a lawyer. It is as much about everyone’s right to a fair trial as it is about everyone getting what he deserves. In the eyes of the law, everyone is given the benefit of the doubt: one is innocent until he is proven guilty. But, once he is proven guilty, justice also gives him his due. It is all about fairness: Lady Justice holds the scales even for all and her eyes are shielded with a blindfold from all razzle dazzle.
It would seem suspect then that anyone would accuse the God of justice of being unfair. Yet, there are those who bemoan that the Savior is swayed by penances and prayers, that Providence Divine favors one group over another. Their complaint has been the same from the time of Ezekiel the prophet to our very own: “The Lord’s way is not fair!” (Ez. 18:25). They believe that the Lord should just let people get what is coming to them.
They forget that the same God of justice is also the God of mercy. God is not just about judgment and punishment; He is also about forgiveness and reconciliation. As the prophet had once preached, the Lord does not derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked; rather, He rejoices when the wicked turns from his evil way (Ez. 18:23).
Yet, in a way, they are right; “The Lord’s way is not fair” (Ez. 18:25) because the Lord’s way is beyond fair in the extravagance of His grace. He could easily give to the sinner the punishment he deserves; yet, He gives to the penitent the mercy he does not deserve.
This is the one plea bargain that even Denny Crane at his finest could never hope to negotiate. No litigator in his right mind would even presume such clemency. It is, in the words of the old spiritual, an amazing grace that the Divine Judge would have a preferential option for the penitent. It might not seem fair that the Lord should favor anyone, much less someone willing to admit his guilt. But, this is not just about someone winning a case in court; it is about God winning back a soul for Heaven. And, as the psalmist of old once learned, there is but one sacrifice the Lord would not spurn: it is the sinner’s humble and contrite heart (cf. Ps. 51:19).
This is certainly not fair at all; it is exceedingly generous.