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Reconciliation, Justice, and Mercy

Pope Francis had this to say in a recent Sunday homily: "Only God's justice can save us! And God's justice revealed itself on the Cross. The Cross is God's judgment on all of us and on this world. But how does God judge us? By giving his life for us. Behold the supreme act of justice that defeated once and for all the Prince of this world. This supreme act of justice is also one of mercy."

Sensitive Western listeners might well have done a doubletake at the pope's suggestion that Jesus' death on the cross is an act of justice. Isn't justice a matter of what is due, owed, or a matter of rights? And was not Jesus' death on the cross a gift and not something that humanity was due or deserved? Pope Francis did not misspeak. Pope Benedict XVI said something quite similar in his Lenten message for 2010, when, in discussing the "justice of Christ," he asked, "what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his 'due'? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart."

Herein lies my disagreement with Miroslav Volf, whose review of my book, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation, I strongly appreciated for its conscientious, fair, thorough, and accurate presentation of my arguments ["Reconciliation, Justice, and Mercy," September/October]. Volf then takes issue with my view that biblical justice incorporates forgiveness. Justice is only a matter of what is owed, he argues, while forgiveness is precisely a gift, something that is not owed.

I agree with Volf that justice is a matter of rights and of what is owed and that for-giveness is not something that a victim owes to a perpetrator but is rather a gift. In my view, however, biblical justice is not only a matter of rights, though it certainly includes them, but is wider than ...

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