It seems perhaps the only thing everyone agrees upon regarding the events of August 9th is this: Michael Brown is dead and he was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson. But we’ve known that since the day it happened.
Last night’s announcement that a grand jury had declined to indict Darren Wilson produced a wide range of responses: from profound disappointment to immense relief, from grief and anger to prayerful sorrow, from the foreseeable violence of looters and rioters to the sordid curiosity of those glued to their television sets. We’ve heard a lot about justice and whether it was done or denied.
Most people focus on the question of justice in the most obvious and immediate sense: Was Darren Wilson guilty of a crime when he killed Michael Brown, or was Wilson acting in self-defense? Where one falls on that question is going to determine an awful lot about where one falls on the question, “Was justice served or denied?”
Ferguson was never going to be made whole by an indictment, a trial, or even a conviction. Michael Brown is dead. Darren Wilson’s life has been turned upside down. The community of Ferguson has been, literally, torn apart. Whether you think justice was done last night, or miscarried badly, there was always going to be a gaping hole left because of what happened that day in August.
No amount of justice was ever going to fix what’s wrong in Ferguson because justice alone cannot restore what sin has torn apart.
To say this is not to abandon the struggle for justice. Rather, it is to recognize that, while justice is necessary, it is not sufficient to make up for what is destroyed through sin. Justice alone cannot undo the evil and division sin brings into the world. Justice can’t remove that stain. For that you need something stronger; you need love.
Love transcends justice, and “covers a multitude of sins.” In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI insisted that love, which is shown in mercy and forgiveness, builds our earthly city. He writes:
On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.
When we show mercy, when we love our enemies, we give witness to the power of the One—the only One—who “takes away the sins of the world” and who “makes all things new.” As Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelii Gaudium:
The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him.
There is hope because there is mercy; there is mercy because love transcends justice. Pray for Ferguson. Pray for mercy.