Perfect Justice and Perfect Mercy

The National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. is the largest church in the western hemisphere. The Byzantine structure rises high above the DC skyline, which is punctuated by famous buildings like the Washington Monument and the US Capitol. Each day, tour buses pull into the circular drive in front of the Shrine and unload droves of pilgrims to the steps of “Mary’s House” as locals call it.

Upon entering the cavernous basilica, any pilgrim’s eye will be drawn upward to a massive mosaic of Jesus that spans from the back wall of the Basilica onto the domed ceiling above the altar. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Jesus’s face is not symmetrical. One side of his gaze seems piercing, while the other is more relaxed. 

This asymmetry is intentional and communicates the genius of our Lord’s perfect justice and perfect mercy. We get a glimpse of this perfect justice and mercy in today’s Gospel from John 2:13-22 as well.

Today we read about the first of Jesus’ four visits to Jerusalem recorded in John’s Gospel. In the context of the Gospel, we read earlier in this chapter about Jesus’ first miracle, which was turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana. This miracle revealed Jesus’s identity but also his love for his mother since it was his mother who prompted the miracle (Jn 2:3-5). This miracle also reveals Jesus’s care for those around him. Jesus is kind, generous, and merciful. Perhaps his countenance was relaxed. 

Yet in this same chapter, we read that Jesus formed a whip out of cords and drove merchants and money changers out of the temple area and flipped over tables (Jn 2:15). This must have been a fierce sight to behold. But isn’t this scene a revelation of Jesus’s perfect justice and perfect mercy? Justice required that Jesus not allow anyone to defile his Father’s house. Mercy required it, too.

In this reading, Jesus’ disciples recalled the words of Scripture “Zeal for your house will consume me,” referencing Psalm 68:10. John is signaling that Jesus will allow himself to be consumed. Out of love for us, he paid the price of our sin through his crucifixion, and he offers us salvation. This is the embodiment of perfect justice and perfect mercy.  

How have you felt Jesus’s justice and mercy in your own life? Sometimes these experiences may be peaceful and miraculous like the Wedding at Cana. At other times, they may be uncomfortable, like the correction and rebuke at the temple. But with focus on Jesus’ with outstretched arms and his gaze from above, we can strive to better conform our lives to his.     

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Feature Image Credit: Mateus Campos Felipe,