The same yesterday, today and tomorrow (2)

IN CELEBRATION of Palm Sunday, I wrote on three of five leadership qualities of Jesus Christ. On this Easter Sunday, let me continue with the fourth and the fifth.

Prayer, justice and love. The fourth: Jesus is a leader of intense prayer and unbending faith. Just before Jesus walked on the water, “He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray, remaining there alone as evening drew on…” (Mt. 14:23-24).

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so intensely that His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk. 22:44). And while He was nailed to the cross, He prayed aloud several times: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.” He Himself taught the best prayer of all, the Lord’s Prayer.

Fifth and most important, Jesus is a leader of justice and love.

When the Bible speaks of justice, it really refers to righteousness—being “right” with God. We are right with God when we obey His commands and follow His ways. We are right with God when we heed Jesus who said: “He who will not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus emphasized the importance of righteousness by concluding His sermon on the mount with these words: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Mt. 6:33)

Scriptures describe Jesus as the ultimate judge of all. He will come in glory with His royal angels and will pass judgment on the basis of whether we gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothing to the naked, and comfort to the imprisoned (Mt. 26:35-40). In announcing the imminent arrival of Jesus into the world, the prophet Isaiah declared (Is. 42:1-6):

Here is my servant whom I uphold,

My chosen one in whom I am pleased,

Upon whom I have put my spirit;

He shall bring forth justice to the nations.

Most valued virtue. But Jesus did not bring only justice. More than anything, He brought compassion and love. Though He was at times tired and weary, still He taught the throngs who followed him, fed them and healed them. He never turned them down. On the contrary, He showed overwhelming love for the weak, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the outcast and the sinner.

A good illustration of the supremacy of His love is shown in the story of the adulteress (Jn. 8:1-11). Jesus was confronted by the scribes (or canon lawyers) with a woman caught in flagrante of adultery. “Teacher,” the scribes said to Him, “this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses ordered such women to be stoned. What do you have to say about the case?”

This was a difficult situation. The law, as known by the Jews, imposed the penalty of death by stoning the woman who had committed adultery. If Jesus did not impose it, He would have violated the law; and if He did, He would have authorized the killing of a human being. In the face of this dilemma, Jesus replied, “Let the man among you who is sinless be the first to cast a stone at her.” At this, the men dispersed, for they realized that Jesus knew their many sins.

But justice is not the most valued virtue in the kingdom of God. It is love. As St. Paul wrote (1 Cor. 13):

“If I speak with human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal… if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have no love, I gain nothing… If I give everything I have to feed the poor and hand over my body to be burned but have no love, I am nothing…There are in the end three things that last; faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”

Justice and love personified. In our modern day and age, it is difficult to imagine a leader who is just and loving at the same time. For justice is seen as aloof and objective, while love is perceived as intimate and subjective. Indeed, can a judge impose the law as justice requires and at the same time waive the penalty as love pleads? The answer is yes. Let me illustrate.

There was this young lady-driver haled before a judge for speeding. “Young lady,” intoned His Honor, “this police officer says you were driving at 100 kilometers per hour in a 50-kilometer zone. What do you to say?”

“Your Honor, I admit my mistake. I am truly sorry. I solemnly promise I will not do it again,” grieved the young lady. “For speeding, you are hereby sentenced to pay a fine of P500,” firmly ruled the judge.

After adjourning the court session, the judge removed his black robe, went straight to the court cashier, pulled out his wallet and paid the P500-fine. He paid the penalty out of love because the repentant (repeat, repentant) law-breaker was his daughter. Justice was served—and so was love.

This is really the story of Jesus. He is justice personified. We, His people, sinned. We violated the law of God. And so the justice of God requires our punishment. Because justice is in His nature, God—even though He is the most powerful being in the universe—cannot refuse to impose the sanction of the law. Otherwise, He would be violating His own nature.

But Jesus is also love personified. So, out of His great love, He came into the world and atoned for our sins. He saved us from the fury of hell. He made it possible for us to experience the never-ending joy of heaven. Jesus is the judge in our little story; the repentant young lady represents each of us. He had to impose the penalty so justice may be served. But because He loves us, He bore our guilt and paid the penalty.

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