This whole Dale Farm business is a sorry mess and, as I write this, is being streamed live over the internet. Yes, the law is equal for everyone, and yes, the planning laws must be respected by all, without any exception. However, it seems a frightful pity that roughly £20 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on the eviction so far. Couldn’t some compromise have been worked out? Couldn’t we have saved that money, and found some solution acceptable to all?
Of course it is all far too late for that. The law has taken its course and the law once it gets going is difficult to stop, or so it seems. This should be a warning to us all about the dangers of legalism. Law of its very nature is impersonal, but it ought, surely, to have some reference to the concept of mercy.
The children of Israel had a law, a very complex and seemingly exhaustive code, designed to cover most situations that might arise. But you can never cover all possible eventualities, as St Thomas Aquinas himself admitted (see Summa I II, 96, 6), and so one needs to have some concept of mercy or leeway.
This is what Exodus (22:20-26) has to say, coincidentally in a passage that will be read this Sunday:
The Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the sons of Israel this:
‘“You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt. You must not be harsh with the widow, or with the orphan; if you are harsh with them, they will surely cry out to me, and be sure I shall hear their cry; my anger will flare and I shall kill you with the sword, your own wives will be widows, your own children orphans.
‘“If you lend money to any of my people, to any poor man among you, you must not play the usurer with him: you must not demand interest from him.
‘“If you take another’s cloak as a pledge, you must give it back to him before sunset. It is all the covering he has; it is the cloak he wraps his body in; what else would he sleep in? If he cries to me, I will listen, for I am full of pity.”’
We are all one day going to be judged according to the Law of God; but at the same time we hope for a merciful judgment, in other words that a little leeway will be afforded us, a bit of understanding. Luckily the divine law is mediated to us through the heart of Jesus. But as we want to be judged so we should judge others. I wish the residents of Dale Farm had been treated with a little more mercy.