Theology 101

Lessons in experiencing mercy

Jesus teaches us that power should be used so that there might be life, and life to the full. In other words, power should be exercised mercifully. However, is there something required of us in order to experience the merciful exercise of power? Are there “preconditions” that dispose us more readily to experience, for example, God’s mercy? Is there something that “enables” God’s merciful action to take effect in our lives?

The witness of the Gospels

Consider each of the following accounts:

Lessons in Mercy: The unforgiving servant

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt 18:21-35) challenges each of us to respond to the immense mercy we have received from the Father by showing that same mercy to our neighbor. At the same time, this parable reminds us that there are serious consequences for our failing to do so.

The parable

The parable begins with Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus replies by telling Peter that he must forgive not seven times, but 77 times.

Mercy begins with spiritual conversion

And he told them a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?”…

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” (Lk 6:39,41-42)

Blessed are the Merciful

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us the beatitudes. One of these beatitudes is of special interest for us during this Jubilee Year of Mercy: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” (Mt 5:7) Here Jesus seems to make being merciful the condition for receiving mercy. Why might this be the case?

The Good Samaritan: A Lesson in Mercy

The Parable in Brief

In order to understand the full context of the parable, we must first consider the Gospel passage directly preceding it – Luke 10:25-28. In these verses, a scholar of the law had asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. In the end, the scholar provided his own answer by citing the two great commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

When Jesus confirmed his answer, the scholar asked a follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus offered this parable as his response.

Mercy is love transformed

As we continue our year-long reflection on the nature of mercy in honor of the official Jubilee Year of Mercy (Dec. 8, 2015–Nov. 20, 2016), let us recall from last time that, according to Pope St. John Paul II, mercy “signifies a special power of love.” In other words, mercy is really love transformed, so we need to understand what love is if we are to penetrate more deeply into what it means to be merciful.

What is love?

We are all probably familiar with St. Paul’s famous lines in his First Letter to the Corinthians in which he tells us what love is and what it is not:

What is mercy?

Let us begin our year-long reflection on the nature of mercy in honor of the official Jubilee Year of Mercy (Dec. 8, 2015 – Nov. 20, 2016) by considering what Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 1992 apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America. Specifically, God is communion and all people are called to share in this same communion.

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