“Gentile or Jew,
Servant or free,
Woman or Man no more…
And we, though many,
Throughout the Earth,
We are one body in this One Lord”
John Michael Talbot, One Bread One Body
What does Jesus tell us about mercy?
This is a fruitful question to pose as it seems that at times the most effective way to communicate a particular reality to one, is to point them in the direction of a human being that emulates – or literally is – that reality. Pope Francis succinctly states that, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus). Therefore, the person, actions, and lifestyle of Jesus serve as a definitive explanation and definition of what mercy is.
Upon deep reflection, one might accurately be drawn to discover that Jesus, and therefore mercy, is bound up in “disarming nonjudgment.” By this, I mean to suggest that Jesus disarms and upends the various “authorities” of His time with the nonjudgmental way in which He chooses who and how to minister to. Those who either touch or are touched by Him, are not those individuals who had been deemed worthy to have benefited in such an intimate way by His actions. At least not by those in power or society at large.
To further explore this point, let us look no further than the contempt that the Pharisees expressed toward Jesus. It should be no surprise that Jesus’ approach flew in the face of these leaders as it violated their blatant legalism. I can tell you that the terms “May” and “Shall” make all of the difference in the legal world. Jesus’ Way changes the paradigm with regard to who is “deserving” of mercy in a number of ways such as:
- The beneficiaries of His love signal to us that we cannot put others into neat boxes
- This realization then leads us to remember that we, ourselves, must “get dirty” (The Joy of the Gospel) when we reflect God’s great love and mercy; and
- EVERY single created human being “May” just in fact be worthy – in other words, there is no guarantee that anyone “Shall.”
Put anecdotally, this seems to come down to the difference between two approaches. The first approach is exemplified by our eight-year old son (our oldest of four boys) through a particular character trait that he possesses. Inevitably, during times when my wife and I are attempting to discipline one of our other sons, our oldest will audibly chime in with his own two cents as to why his brother should not have done what he did. Our standard response is, “This does not concern you.” On the other hand, as to offer a second approach, Pope Francis has notoriously stated, “Who am I to judge?” Which approach more closely resembles Jesus and therefore the purity of mercy? Which is a window through which to view a spirit of nonjudgment which disarms authorities? Which highlights that we “May” indeed all be worthy after all? Clearly the latter.
We are called to be the mercy that Jesus is in this world:
Imagine if we lived this spirit out to its fullest potential… As I dream about this being our reality, I smile at the notion that we would give everyone the benefit of the doubt and refrain from judgement. We would turn our secular notion of authority on its head and share with others that meekness is NOT weakness, and that our attempts to hold power over others is nothing close to the call of dignity that we are obligated to show one another. In a most fitting way though, we’d be forced to accept that we are indeed “One bread, One body.” In response, our preconceived notions would be held powerless, and mercy – love – would flow forth in all that we say and do. Not quite convinced that this is achievable? Look to Jesus… we are called to be the mercy that He is in this world.
Want to go Deeper?
- Matthew 8:1-4- Cleaning of a Leper
- Luke 7: 36-50 Pardon of a Sinful Woman
- Matthew 23: 1-36 Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees
If you see something or read something that captures the mercy that Jesus is in this world, join many others who are spreading the good-news of mercy with the hashtag #MercyMatters!