BE MERCIFUL

Monday, 2nd Week of Lent

            A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death. “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.” “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied. “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.

            Strictly speaking, mercy entails withholding or moderating punishment that the guilty party fully deserves. One can never earn, deserve, or merit mercy. Mercy is by definition unearned, undeserved, and unmerited. Otherwise, it is not mercy but justice.

            When the Bible repeatedly describes God as merciful, it is asserting that God does not punish as we deserve but forgives. Our hope rests not in divine justice but in divine mercy.

            Jesus, in today’s gospel passage, exhorts us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.” “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

            Mercy and forgiveness are God’s to bestow or withhold as he pleases. We have no claim on God’s mercy. Otherwise, it would not be mercy. Jesus teaches repeatedly that we will be the recipients of God’s mercy, insofar as we extend mercy to those who have wronged us. And by doing so, we prove ourselves to be children of our Father in heaven.

            If we dare to pray to “Our Father” and profess to belong to Christ, then there is no other way for us than the way of mercy. Pope Francis wrote that this mercy of God is “the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person.” It is absolutely essential for us – and for the credibility of our Christian message – to live and testify to mercy.

            It is said that if we truly know ourselves, we will be less condemning. And if we know others, we will be more compassionate. Know and experience the mercy of the Father, then live his mercy.

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