Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
Errin Haines Whack, an editor from the Associated press wrote, “On Oct. 3, 1995, an estimated 150 million people — more than half the country at the time — tuned in to hear the jury’s verdict in Simpson’s trial for the Brown-Goldman murders. While millions watched Simpson’s parole hearing last week, audiences were hardly as emotionally invested as they were in 1995 at what appeared to be the “Crime of the Century.”
Although there are no reports as to how many people really stopped what they were doing on July 20, to hear whether O. J. Simpson was going to be paroled or not, we know for sure that there are many around our nation who will be quick to voice their concerns about his upcoming parole in October — just mark my word.
So, what’s your opinion? At this time, does Simpson deserve the mercy of God or not? Of course not! Simpson doesn’t deserve God’s mercy, nor do you and I. God’s mercy is a gift that He gives to anyone and everyone, not because we deserve it, but because He desires to forgive us and to reconcile us back to Him.
The good news of our salvation is that Jesus came to save those most in need of His mercy as we hear in Mark 2:17: “Jesus … said to them, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners,’” and why does Jesus even bring this point up? Because the Pharisees and the Scribes want to know why Jesus is eating with sinners and tax collectors. How dare He? How dare He eat with the unholy and the lawbreakers? How dare He eat with the morally depraved? How do He eat with the lost and the forsaken? Who in the world does Jesus think He is? God?
Whenever I see this above scripture verse, I can’t help but think of the phrase, “Every saint has a past, and ever sinner has a future.” A phrase like that should be posted above every church to remind us that God is not running away from us, but is running after us as we see through the Parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Lost Son (Luke 15). We may never have been incarcerated there in the Lovelock Correctional Center in Nevada where Simpson is doing time; however, like him and every person who is presently incarcerated, we are in dire need of being found by God and released from the “chains” that bind us, whether those chains are physical, emotional, and/or spiritual.
The Good News about our so-called captivity is this: We know the One who has the key to truly set us free. The Lord’s mission regarding the healthy and the sick; the righteous and the sinner is clear: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18).”
As Christians, we know that the mission of bringing the Good News to those who feel “lost” or “captive” cannot begin and end with Jesus. As Christians, we must be willing to run the good race and to fight the good fight with the same enthusiasm and momentum that Simpson had when he ran the ball downfield and when he raced through the airport jumping over chairs. In no way do I want to use this analogy about Simpson to hail him as an unsung hero or exemplary citizen, but to simply say that part of our mission in “proclaiming liberty to the captives and letting the oppressed go free” is to help Simpson and ourselves recognize that although we have been wounded by sins and crimes, God’s mercy, which is offered to all, can give us the strength to keep running the race and fighting the good fight with the same momentum of an NFL player, not to mention the power of Jesus.
In setting the captives free, we need to let the world know that “Christians are not perfect; just forgiven,” and that our churches are not reserved just for the “holy” but for sinners, the brokenhearted, the downcast, etc. Fr. Peter Daly has an article called “The Church Should be a Hospital for Sinners!” In this article, he quotes Pope Francis who said, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”
Pope Francis stated, “The confessional should not be a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better.”
To re-inforce Pope Francis’ request to heal wounds, Daly mentioned a popular phrase, “The church is not a museum of saints; it’s a hospital for sinners.” Daly says, “A broken world needs a place where people can bring its spiritual injuries. We need an emergency room more than a courtroom.”
And so let me ask you: does Simpson deserve mercy? Of course not, but who does? Mercy is God’s gift to us; it can’t be earned or bought or paid for during our life-time. As a result of God’s mercy, we have an obligation to thank Him for the price He paid for us through His death on the cross and the shedding of His blood. In reality, we have no other defense in this life or in the next other than to “plead” the blood of the lamb, for only through His blood can we defeat the greatest accuser and prosecutor of all, Satan himself (Revelation 12:11).
I’m confident that when Jesus hung on the cross and profoundly proclaimed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34),” he was looking at all humanity, including Simpson. If your son was in jail or in prison, what would you be hoping for — justice or mercy?
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.