The offering of judgment, mercy, and fidelity in the life of Jesus

When we consider sacrifice in the Old Testament we discover that no matter how we approach the matter, sacrifice always falls short. As a gift of tribute to God, the ruler of all, it falls short because of the rebellion of the subject people. If sacrifice is seen as a pledge of fidelity in a sort of marriage covenant between God and his people, sacrifice fails because of the infidelity and adultery of an idolatrous people. When we consider the plea of God, I want mercy, not sacrifice, and set that it the context of the weightier matters of the law (judgment/mishpat, mercy/chesed, and fidelity/emeth) we saw that the outward ritual sacrifice needed to be the offering of a people characterized by judgment, mercy, and fidelity. Instead, because the people proved unfaithful, judgment and mercy were lacking and their sacrifices became worthless and even offensive to God. So Isaiah declares: God looked for judgment, but see bloodshed! For justice, but hark the outcry! (Is 5:7)

So now let us turn our attention to Jesus Christ, whom God sent as a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. (Heb 2:17) John the Baptist announces him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Jn 1:29) He is both the priest who offers the sacrifice and the victim offered in sacrifice. He freely lays down his life as sacrificial victim, in obedience to the will of his Father, and by his own power he takes it up again. (cf. Jn 10:17-18)

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that on entering the world as High Priest Jesus says, Behold, I come to do your will, O God. (Heb 10:7) He fulfills the will of his heavenly Father through the practice of judgment/mishpat, mercy/chesed, and fidelity/emeth. We can, then, consider the example of mishpat, chesed, and emeth in the life of Jesus.

If we begin with emeth we can consider that Jesus rejects the temptation of Satan, saying, The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve. (Mt 4:10) Further, he upholds the law of the covenant declaring, Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill. (Mt 5:17) He rebukes the Pharisees for replacing the commandments of God with human traditions. (cf. Mk 7:8) When asked by the rich young man the way to eternal life, he tells him to keep the commandments. (cf. Mk 10:19) When asked about divorce he rejects the hardness of heart that leads to infidelity and calls the people back to God’s original plan when he created man male and female. (cf. Mk 10:5-9) He sums up the whole law of God in the commandment to love God with the whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. (cf. Mk 12:28-31)

Jesus exercises mishpat when he tells the people of Nazareth that a prophet is not without honor except in his own country and then walks through their midst when they seek to kill him. (cf. Lk 4:24,29-30) So also when he rebukes the Pharisees, while upholding their authority. (cf. Mt 23:1-36) When he both heals and defends the man with the withered hand and the woman who was bent over for eighteen years. (cf. Mk 3:1-5; Lk 13:10-17) So also when he defends the sinful woman who washes his feet with her tears and Mary Magdalene when she anoints his feet with precious oil. (cf. Lk 7:36-50, Jn 12:1-8) He also exercises mishpat when he reveals the hardness of heart of the Sanhedrin that sits in judgment upon him, saying, If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question you, you will not respond. (Lk 22:67-68) And also before Pilate when he says, You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. For this reason the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin. (Jn 19:11)

As for the practice of chesed it is perhaps best seen in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, who reveals her vulnerability by coming to draw water alone at midday, apart from the other women of the village. Jesus gently draws her out, awaking her desire for the living water that springs up to eternal life, revealing to herself the misery of her sinful life, and showing himself as the Messiah in whom she can believe, in whom she can put her trust. In the end he restores her to her lost dignity. (cf. Jn 4:4-26)

All three qualities are revealed in Jesus treatment of the woman caught in adultery. Mishpat Let the among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. (Jn 8:7) Chesed Neither to I condemn you. (Jn 8:11) Emeth Go, and from now on do not sin any more. (Jn 8:11)

Finally, Jesus brings the practice of mishpat, chesed, and emeth to completion when he offers himself upon the Cross. Mishpat because the Cross is the judgement of condemnation against the devil, the prince of this world. (cf. Jn 12:31, 16:11) Chesed because Jesus sheds his blood for the forgiveness of sins and promises paradise to the repentant thief. Emeth because on the Cross, Jesus does the will of the Father and completes his work and so is able to declare, It is finished. (Jn 19:30, cf. Jn 4:34)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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