Human justice and Divine justice
The Gospel According to Matthew 18:23-35
The Lord said this parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the torturers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant contains sublime teachings. The parable opens a window for us and we peek at what is truly a divine attribute and characteristic. The parable teaches us primarily about divine justice. God sees our numerous transgressions on His computer screen, but as soon as He reads our email asking for His forgiveness, He hits the delete key, and voila, everything is erased. In the second place the parable teaches us something equally important to us: that unless we forgive our fellow human being any infraction against us, we should not expect God to forgive us our infractions against Him either.
Is it not marvelous, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the magnanimity of the king of the parable? In him we get a glimpse of the kind of “justice” our God has. A justice totally imbalanced–in our favor! I am reminded of a story about this rich man who had not done a single deed of kindness in all his life: a greedy, stingy, unmerciful, selfish creature. Upon dying his guardian angel took his soul and headed for heaven. But on the way the evil spirits claimed it: This soul is ours, they shouted. The good angel went over and over the man’s entire life–and could not find a single good deed. Suddenly, there, just as the demons were ready to snatch his soul from the Angel’s hands, he saw a good deed. Here, he cried joyfully, he gave a loaf of bread to a beggar: he is ours. You see, one time the rich man was chasing a beggar, and he could not find anything else handy to throw at him, but this loaf of bread. The Good Lord reckoned it as charity. Such merciful and forgiving God is our God!
The divine truths about God’s forgiveness, mercy, compassion, tolerance, kindness, and love and our imitation of God in these divine attributes were preached in the Sermon of the Mount from the mouth of the Incarnate Love. The Lord presented to us a God who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:40). We also hear the condition of forgiveness:
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk. 6:37-38).
To illustrate better the divine justice I will now turn to a marvelous book, written by a priest-monk, Fr. Christodoulos from the Holy Mountain. In the book that he wrote, Elder Paisios, he brings us the words of this great contemporary holy Elder, now a declared Saint. These are words of great wisdom, my dear Christians, and offer a great commentary to the divine teachings of the Lord. He writes:
I always had this perplexity, how can a human being become a Saint, and what was that which distinguished our Saints, and for which God engraced them. One day I went to the Elder and asked him: “Yeronda [Elder], what is that which our Saints have, apart from the rest of men, the very thing which sets them apart, and thus enables them to receive God’s grace?” The Elder answered, “Our Saints had the divine justice, not the human justice.” I asked again: “What is, Yeronda, this divine justice?” And he replied with examples full of grace, as follows:1
“Well, say two men sit at table to eat, and in front of them have a plate with ten apricots. If one of the two is a glutton and overindulges eating seven of them leaving three for the other one, then he is at fault, and wrongs the other. This is injustice. But if he says, “It’s the two of us and there are ten apricots, so each one’s share is five, so he eats five and leaves for the other one five, then this man applies the human law and he has the human justice. It is because of this human law that we run many times to the courts, to find it. But if he sees that his brother likes apricots, he will pretend he doesn’t like them. So he may eat one just to save face, saying to the other: “Brother, you eat the rest of the apricots, because I don’t like them very much, and actually they bother me a little, so it would be better if I didn’t eat any more.” Then he has the divine justice, according to which he prefers, in a human way, to suffer injustice. Yet his sacrifice receives more than enough recompense by the divine grace. He receives God’s grace by the bundle.”
Don’t you find this story truly astonishing in its simplicity, yet full of penetrating insight? I was going to stop here, but Elder Paisios has much more to teach us about divine justice. These teachings are simple, but lofty in their simplicity for us who are worldly and carnal. Let’s listen to them:
I will give you one more example, to understand it well. If someone comes and tells me, “Yeronda, this cell is mine, so get out and leave, and go sit outside under the cypress tree, because this cell is mine,” then if I possess divine justice I will accept it with joy and actually I will thank him for the offer he made to me, and allowed me to be under my own tree. But if I possess human justice–and this is what I want to apply in my life–then I will not accept it, and I will begin to argue and fight with him, until we end up in courts–if he won’t be convinced. The true Christian, however, must not prosecute anyone nor sue anyone, even if they take the clothes off his back.
Wisdom from Saint Paisios. Over 100 more graphics like this on our “Living Words” page.
There is only one difference between the Christians and those who do not believe in Christ: The Christians have as their law the divine justice, whereas the unbelievers have human justice. The justice of men is nothing compared to the justice of God. Our Lord applied first this divine justice. Neither when they accused Him did He justify Himself, nor when they spat on Him did He complain, nor when He suffered to be accused, but He bore everything patiently and quietly, without reacting at all. He even allowed to be deprived of His clothes, and thus God was mocked naked before His creation. Most important of all, however, not only did He not demand help from the human law, but to the contrary, He justified His persecutors to His Father, and prayed for them, to be forgiven: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). We, however, do not look at the example of our God, and thus we do not stop suing other people, unless we get back the things we claim, and then some at times, especially when, before we collect the debt, we collect the interest. The result is that our right becomes the beginning of a great injustice.
Let us examine our lives, my dear Christians, and let us make the necessary adjustments we need to make. Let us seek God’s divine justice and grow in imitation of our merciful, kind, generous, forgiving and loving God, and we will not be deprived of any good thing. Amen.
- I ask you to please pay particular attention to the following simple words, which I find to be among the most remarkable I have read anywhere, full of divine wisdom.
Article graphics and editing: Tony Hatzidakis