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; parts one and two appeared in the November 12 and 19 issues respectively.
It can be argued that a world without mercy is a world without Christ. It is a callous and unsympathetic world. For example, in the time of Jesus, the lepers were treated as unclean, the blind and the widows, the poor, and the women had little or no dignity or recognition.
Some of the Jews were merciless to sinners and to the Gentile world, Barclay (1997). Therefore, generally, to show mercy was a complete reversal of their value system.
The Gospel according to Luke 15: 7–10 clearly indicates that with God, there is great jubilation over one repentant sinner because Jesus came to preach the Gospel of mercy to all.
Barclay (1997) mentions that according to their law, the Orthodox Jews believed that it was highly forbidden to assist a Gentile mother in childbirth even if it were a crisis. They also believed that if a Jew became a renegade from the faith, it was prohibited to provide medical intervention even if his life were endangered.
He further explains that the Orthodox Jews also taught that the Gentiles were to be killed, as snakes are crushed to the ground since the Gentiles were created as fuels for the fire of hell.
In the Roman world, life was harsh and unbearable for the slaves and their children. Children, especially female, were mercilessly slaughtered. Deformity was unacceptable, Barclay (1997).
Similarly, Dilling (2003) adds that: “Gentiles are not classed as men, but as barbarians and because they are barbarians, they cannot get equal treatment under Jewish civil law. Thus, the Jewish courts ignore even the murder of Gentiles.” Hence, a God of mercy was beyond their comprehension.
To be merciful means to: have the same attitude towards others as God has for us; think of others as God thinks of us; feel or empathise or act as God. Mercy is the opposite of self-centeredness and selfishness. It is outgoing and all-embracing. Barclay (1997) believes that it is having the right disposition towards life, where the needs of others are more clement than one’s own needs. Mercy signifies that the sorrows of others are more important than one’s own sorrow. Thus, mercy is achieved when love of self is replaced by love of God and love of neighbour.
Mercy is not a vague generalised benevolence but a personal, individualised outgoing and tangible love. It may be a sentimental love for humanity, but it must be a personal interaction in our daily encounters. Sometimes we sympathise with the world and humanity at large. While this is very commendable we must take cognisance of the type of interaction we have with others especially those we may consider to be an utter nuisance.
This mercy must be extended to all. Let us take note of the phrase that: “Charity begins at home, and so Mercy also begins at home.” This mercy may be sentimental and emotional but it demands action.
The Gospel according to John 3: 1–6 mentions that God so loved the world: a sentiment and an emotion, that He gave his only Son: a corresponding action. Mercy is lodged in the heart, but it ought to be expressed through our actions and noble deeds. Barclay (1997) states that to be merciful literally means getting into people’s boots and feeling for them and identifying with them.
Ritenbaugh (1999) expresses a similar perspective. He states that: “Having a sense of another’s feelings to this degree is very difficult to do because we are normally so self-concerned, so aware of our own feelings, that sensitivity for others to this depth often requires a great effort of the will. Normally, when we feel sorry for someone, it is an exclusively external act because we do not make the effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart until we can see and feel things as that person does. It is not easy to walk in another person’s shoes.”
Although it is difficult to empathise, let us be bold and heed the words of Jesus echoed in the Gospel according to Matthew 9:36: “And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Mercy is more than emotional pity and sorrow. It is even more than rendering kind assistance. Above all, it is the willingness to forget self and make the deliberate and conscious effort to always assist others. It means totally identifying with them.
The letter to the Philippians 2:6 mentions that: “Christ, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped…” The Gospel according to John 1:14 narrates that: “The Word became flesh, he lived among us” (The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition). Thus, by understanding people’s world, how they think, and why they behave in a particular manner, we may be more able to tolerate, understand and have mercy on them.
Forgiveness sometimes becomes easier because there is always a reason why people act in a particular manner. To be merciful is to show complete forgiveness and compassion to those in need. Jesus, in Matthew 6:12, mentions: “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.” He also instructs the Pharisees: “Go and learn the meaning of the words: ‘Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice’,” Matthew 9:13.
Let us, therefore, approach the throne of God with great confidence and complete faith and hope so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need, Hebrews 4:15–16.
The letter of St James 2:13 cautions us that: “Whoever acts without mercy will be judged without mercy.” Thus, promise to those who are merciful: “They shall obtain mercy,” is an inescapable promise of Jesus.
This fifth Beatitude presents a promise and a warning at the same time. On the one hand, there are people who constantly try to be merciful and become closely united with God. On the other hand, there are those who fail to practise mercy and are separated from God.
This series began with a concern with a lack of mercy in the world in which Jesus lived and in which we live. It has tried to explain the true and real significance of mercy highlighting that this practice is a way of life. It has made particular reference to the fifth Beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel and has challenged the faithful to get involved in showing mercy. It is the hope that through engaging in this process, the faithful will become more conscious of the urgent need to make the fifth Beatitude an integral part of life.