The Church’s Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy ran from December 8, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, to November 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King. Fr Gabriel Julien reexamines Mercy in this three-part series; part one appeared in the November 12 issue.
In the Old Testament, mercy and the Hebrew word Chesedh have great significance. In general, mercy could mean a remission of penalty. It could also mean to have compassion or to forgive someone. Therefore, to have mercy meant not to treat others with sternness or with severity or with rigorous justice.
Chesedh has a different notion. In the Bible it is translated as mercy about 96 times and as kindness, 38 times. However kindness is the basic idea of Chesedh when it refers to God, Barclay (1997). It is the basis of God’s relationship with us, especially when pertaining to Israel. Thus, the Old Testament clearly demonstrates that:
God’s mercy is infinite. Ps 36:5
Mercy reaches heaven. Ps 57:10
Mercy endures forever. Ps 89:1–2, 100:5, 103:7
Mercy belongs to God. Is 62:12
God delights in mercy. Mic 7:18
In Exodus 15:3 the mercy of God is clearly visible in the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and Ezra 9:9 shows the kindness of the Persian king when he allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem. God’s mercy is not only exhibited through the events of history. It is seen in nature and the very structure of the world, Psalm 119:64. Furthermore, it is instructive to mention that it is on the grounds of mercy that people appeal to God, Psalm 6:4, 31:16.
The mercy of God is not capricious. Thus, people can trust in it and build a firm foundation because it is dependable and reliable. That is why the mercy of God is closely connected with the many great people in the Bible. It is because of mercy:
Lot escapes from Sodom. Gen 19:19
Jacob was saved. Gen 32:10
Joseph was recognised. Gen 39:21
David and Solomon thrived. 2 Sam 7:15, 22:51 & 1 Kgs 3:6
God directed the history of Israel.Ps 106:7
Mercy is connected with fidelity and God directs his people through mercy. Deuteronomy 7:9 states that mercy is also associated with covenant, and God is faithful and keeps his covenant with and shows mercy to those he loves.
Through the covenant, God entered into a unique relationship with his people, MacDonald (1990). Exodus 20:6 and Deuteronomy 5:10, 7:9 underscore that mercy is specially given to those who keep God’s law.
Similarly, 1 Kings 8:23 and Proverbs 14:22 mention that those who walk before God with their whole heart and those who devise and plot good are also guided by the mercy of God. This mercy and kindness, the very essence of the covenant relationship must be shared with others. The following citations from the Old Testament persuade the faithful to be merciful.
* The wicked fail to show mercy. Ps 109:1–6
* Let not mercy and truth forsake you. Prov 3:3
* The land lacks truth, mercy, and knowledge. Hos 4:1
* Nothing can replace mercy. Hos 6:l6
* Hosea makes an appeal to observe mercy and justice. Hos 12:6
* Micah exhorts to act justly and to love tenderly.Mic 6:8
* Zechariah appeals for justice, love and mercy. Zech 7:9
Mercy in the Old Testament does not only mean to suspend judgement, to remit penalty or to mitigate justifiable punishment. It is also the covenant relationship of God with his people Dulles (1990).
Barclay, W. (1997) The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel According to Matthew. Great Britain: The Saint Andrew Press.
Dulles, S. J. A. (1990, p. 172 – 174) “Catholicity in (J. A. Komonchack, M. Collins, D.A. Lane, Editors) The New Dictionary of Theology Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
MacDonald, T. (1990, p. 1065 – 1067) “Unity in the Church” in (J. A. Komonchack, M. Collins, D.A. Lane, Editors) The New Dictionary of Theology Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
MacDonald, T. (1990, p. 52 – 54) “Apostolicity” in (J. A. Komonchack, M. Collins, D.A. Lane, editors) The New Dictionary of Theology Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
MacDonald, T. (1999, p. 472 – 474) “Holiness in the Church” in (J. A. Komonchack, M. Collins, D.A. Lane, Editors) The New Dictionary of Theology Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press.
Next week: Mercy in the New Testament