Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy
So far the beatitudes have focused on society's 'have-nots': the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those longing for righteousness/justice. But this one seems to shift focus onto people in a position of power; those able to give or withhold mercy. My expert guide to the beatitudes, Glen Stassen, suggests that Jesus expressed mercy in two main ways. One was forgiveness of sin, and the other was forgiving debt. He points to the story in Luke of the woman ("who was a sinner") anointing Jesus' feet with ointment and her tears. Simon the Pharisee expresses shock that Jesus would allow such a woman to touch him, and Jesus responds with a parable about a creditor who forgave one man a large debt, and the other man a smaller debt. "Which of them will love him (the creditor more?", asks Jesus. Simon is forced to concede that the one who was forgiven the large debt. Jesus then then praises the woman for her extravagant display of love (in comparison to Simon), and on that basis announces that her sins ("which were many") are forgiven.
For Stassen it's Jesus' combination of spiritual forgiveness and material justice, which makes this an exemplary story about mercy.
However, in Wellington we have a well know religious order called the Sisters of Mercy. My mission this month is to try and talk with one of the sisters about their take on mercy. I figure they must have thought about it quite a bit. I hope so!
During the Covid lockdown I noticed a backpack stowed away, out of sight, down the side of the church. Previous experience suggests it might belong to someone sleeping rough - a place to store their gear when they're moving about during the day. The housing of rough sleepers is a justice issue top of mind for many Kiwis. But like lots of justice issues, 'solutions' are not so straight forward. One person I worked with last year had been homeless for years, moving about sleeping in unused sheds etc, and sometimes staying with kind people for a few weeks. But what was keeping him homeless, in my opinion, was shame and unresolved guilt. And he had a lot to feel guilty about! So he kept on the move. For him, justice wouldn't look so much like a house, but rather more like a community where he could feel accepted.
I couldn't get him off the street for more than a few weeks, but my wife and I have been able to help another family with housing. This is my ongoing experience of a kind of restorative justice in the area of housing. It involves us leaving our home and renting it to a family who came to NZ through the Government's official refugee programme. It's been going for over three years now, and will end (we believe) with the family having enough money to buy their own house. An incredible achievement on their part. Here's a video made a couple of years ago where Fiona and I describe what happened.
Two housing crises, but I think the restoring justice each was after were totally different. A refugee family needed housing in a particular area that was affordable enough for them to live comfortably and even get on the housing ladder. A homeless man needed, not so much a house, as a community to embrace and accept him.