PankratzJustice and Mercy came from heaven to earth one day to have a look around. Taking on human form, Justice looked fit and muscular, while Mercy was slightly pudgy with big, brown eyes. After only a few hours, they agreed that things on earth are a mess.

“How could You-Know-Who allow these deplorable conditions? Crime, poverty, war … it’s way out of control,” Justice said.

“It’s the free-will clause again,” replied Mercy.

“No kidding.” Justice was flabbergasted. “I can see giving that to angels. But to human beings? Oh, boy.”

“It’s up to them to try to fix this.” Mercy paused. “But we can coach them.”

Their agreement ended at their next stop, a courtroom. A 30-year-old man was on trial for his third drunk-driving arrest. With a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit, he drove into a crowded block party, injuring three adults and a child. The prosecutor was pushing for the maximum prison sentence. When the jury returned a guilty verdict, the victims’ families cheered. Justice cheered.

“Did you know that this man has a serious, untreated mental illness?” Mercy countered. “If he could get consistent medical treatment, he wouldn’t be self-medicating with alcohol. He’s not a hardened criminal. He’s sick.”

Justice replied, “Public safety is what counts here. A few years behind bars will wake him up.”

Then Justice waved his cloak, and instantly they were standing in a slum near the heart of a modern, affluent city. The homeless and their children were picking through garbage scrounging for something to eat. The mayor, escorted by a motorcade of prominent businessmen, rocketed down the street on his way to the opera.

Justice smiled as he turned to look at his friend. “Now I think you’ll see things my way. Or do you want to plead on behalf of rulers who use their power to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor?”

Mercy looked down. “You do have a point.”

Looking up again, Mercy smiled. “I am a little surprised at you, though. You missed the chance to blame the misery of these unfortunates on themselves. You know, your usual argument about the poor lacking the virtues of initiative and hard work … the bootstrap theory, I think you call it. You’re slipping.”

Justice shot back. “Don’t accuse me of saying that. You’re confusing me with Ignorance and Prejudice. And we don’t hang out with them, if you recall.”

Angered by Mercy’s jibe, Justice strode across the busy street. A police officer on the corner observed him crossing against the light.

“Hey, you, hold it a minute.” The officer approached Justice as he reached the other side. “What’s your hurry? You could have caused an accident. Careless people like you need to be taught a lesson.” The officer issued Justice a ticket for jaywalking.

Mercy suggested that they end their trip to earth right now, but Justice insisted that they set things right before they leave. “I’m going to court to contest this ticket. When I started to cross the street, the light was with me.” They were off to the public library to do some legal research.

They searched through stacks of law books, but the one on traffic law that Justice needed was missing. They checked the electronic card catalog, and found that the volume was checked out.

Justice tried to control his anger as he spoke to the librarian on duty. “I need this book, and it was due back yesterday. Can’t the library do something about this?”

“Sorry, sir,” the librarian answered. “The library has a policy called the grace period. A patron can return a book within three days of the due date without incurring a fine.”

“A due date’s a due date.” Justice insisted. He glowered at Mercy. “This is more of your doing.”

It was also Mercy’s doing when the dynamic duo appeared in court and Mercy got his friend off based on the argument that they were visitors in a foreign land, were ignorant of traffic laws and would never let it happen again.

As they walked down the courthouse steps, Justice paused and grabbed Mercy’s arm. “I guess there are times when I need you, you know, to balance me out.”

“That sounds fair.” Mercy agreed. “It sounds like something you would say.”

(Pankratz is a marriage and family therapist at Catholic Charities Milwaukee regional office.)