MERCY: UNMERITED, BUT NOT UNCONDITIONAL
Loving Thy Neighbor Into Big-Time Trouble

July-August 1998By Benjamin D. Wiker

Benjamin D. Wiker is a Tutor at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

It is 2:30 a.m. We are jolted from a sound sleep by the noise of someone pounding on the door of the house next to ours. A voice screams obscenities and threats. It is Aaron (not his real name), our adolescent next-door neighbor. He must be drunk. Again. His mother must have locked him out again — probably for her own protection.

When we moved into this, our first home, seven years ago, we had no idea that we were going to suffer the direct effects of our self-crippled judicial system. Ours is a common plight, however: The peace of mind that the innocent majority should have is at the mercy of the few whose characters have been formed in no small part by mercy gone awry or — to be more exact — mercy unmoored from justice.

It is now 5:30 a.m., three hours since the previous outburst. My wife is half-dozing as she nurses our newest child, a five-week-old baby girl. Today is Sunday, the day of her baptism. Suddenly the blessed stillness of dawn is shattered by another string of shouted curses. Aaron is yelling at his dog, a puppy he bought just before he went to jail the last time. The puppy is a canine version of its master: Neither has ever been disciplined; both, whenever let loose, run wild. The puppy ignores the pleading and cursing meant to rein him in. I’ve seen Aaron stalk the puppy threateningly; the dog crouches in teasing submission, then darts off as the boy draws near. Aaron plays the same game with the police and the courts. The boy, like the dog, realizes that threats are mere words. His mother pleads with him, the police haul him in again and again, but, when things reach the dear “loving” judge, justice melts into mercy, and Aaron darts free again. Have judges become misguided mothers?

We come downstairs at 6:30 and begin making coffee and toast, pouring juice, and changing diapers. Today, with the baptism, there will be extra work to do. Who could think that this blinking, stretching little girl of five weeks would need to be cleansed of some deep perturbation of the soul, some mysterious inclination toward evil?


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