The cross of Christ on Calvary is also a witness to the strength of evil against the very Son of God, against the one who, alone among all the sons of men, was by His nature absolutely innocent and free from sin, and whose coming into the world was untainted by the disobedience of Adam and the inheritance of original sin. And here, precisely in Him, in Christ, justice is done to sin at the price of His sacrifice, of His obedience “even to death.”(Phil. 2:8) He who was without sin, “God made him sin for our sake.”(2 Cor. 5:21)
The old idea that misfortune befalls those who have, in some way, transgressed. Jesus, of course, did not. He also belittled the idea.
Justice is also brought to bear upon death, which from the beginning of (human) history had been allied to sin. Death has justice done to it at the price of the death of the one who was without sin and who alone was able-by means of his own death-to inflict death upon death.(Cf. 1 Cor. 15:54-55) In this way the cross of Christ, on which the Son, consubstantial with the Father, renders full justice to God, is also a radical revelation of mercy, or rather of the love that goes against what constitutes the very root of evil in the history of (humankind): against sin and death.
I can accept the tradition voiced here. But has anyone ever wondered with Peter: was there any other way for mercy to be shown? I think the question is asked not because of some sense of avoidance of this great gift, but just as a curiosity.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana