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Jesus, God’s Mercy Incarnate

8 July 2016

Sin, has to a large extent become “down-graded” as far as popular culture is concerned. The word is used to sell many things, from cream cakes to underwear, so “Sin” becomes something “naughty, but nice”. However, sin is a state of human existence in which the individual is estranged from God. There is nothing “nice” about sin, which is unfortunate as we are all so prone to cutting ourselves off from God.

Sin is the root cause of human suffering. Not all suffering can be attributed to sin, but all sin leads to suffering. The temptation to sin can be a torment; the act of sin itself can lead to physical, emotional, mental and spiritual suffering, and the consequences of one person’s sin can ripple out through generations of suffering.

Sin is poison.

Luckily, there is a remedy for this poison: Mercy.

Saint Pope John Paul II once said that “Jesus Christ is the incarnation of Divine Mercy.” More recently, Pope Francis said in the Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.”

On earth, during His mission, Jesus was compassionate toward all suffering. When He saw suffering, He responded with a deep mercy which is described in the original Greek of the Gospels as splagchna eleous. This literally means “the bowels of mercy”, and implies that Jesus responded to those who suffered and cried out for Mercy with a compassion that was visceral, as if it caused pain in His own heart and stomach.

His response to suffering was to relieve it, and He relieved suffering through forgiving the sins of all who sought Him, giving them the gift of peace. He preached to sinners, inviting them to repent of their sins, to literally turn their lives around and enter into God’s mercy.

According to the Gospels according to Mark and Luke, Jesus told the scribes and the Pharisees that He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners” and to the great scandal of the scribes and the Pharisees Jesus sat down to eat with notorious sinners and despised tax collectors, intending to gather them into His Mercy. In turn He challengedthe scribes and Pharisees about their lack of mercy to others.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught His disciples that “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” and He instructed us that we must “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”. As He relieves the suffering of humanity, we too are called to relieving the suffering of others: The Corporal Acts of Mercy are based upon the Parables of the Good Samaritan and the Sheep and the Goats, and in these stories, Jesus lists the works that we must do to avoid being numbered with the “goats”, those sinful, selfish individuals who do not recognise God in the least of our brothers: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the prisoner.

Jesus continues to offer His everlasting Mercy to all who are willing to accept it. However, to receive Mercy, we must repent and be willing to accept God’s mercy. God’s mercy deserves a response, and Jesus has shown us what our response must be. He showed us through His preaching in the parables; and in His rebukes to those who did not show enough love for others. Above all, He showed us though His example, to teach us to be merciful to others.

Mercy is both the core and the foundation of the Christian faith. We believe in a God of Mercy, who made manifest His Mercy in the Incarnation of his Word, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. When he walked this earth, Jesus lived for others and greeted everyone he met with mercy and compassion. Mercy was the reason he entered this world. Mercy was why he forgave sins. He cured people and cast out demons because of His great mercy. When He suffered and died for us, He asked His Father to show mercy to His murderers from the cross, and we are expected to follow His example!

Is it possible for mere humans to show mercy such as His?

Here is proof that such heroic mercy is possible: Very recently, it was reported in the press (1) that a gang of jihadis demanded protection money from a Christian family in Mosul, Iraq. Because the money was not paid quickly enough, the jihadis set fire to the Christians’ home, and a 12 year old girl, the only daughter of this Christian family was severely burned. Her last words to her mother before she died of her burns were: “Forgive them.” The “them” she referred to were her murderers. How could she ask her mother to forgive someone she had not forgiven first? She forgave her killers and asked her mother to do likewise, just as Jesus did on the cross.

Christ was the model for this young girl in this heroic act of forgiveness. He can be our role-model in mercy too.