Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm (Oxford English Dictionary)
It’s interesting to reflect on the second half of this definition before the first half. As we walk through life we are presented with so many opportunities to make decisions about how we behave in relation to others (and you can apply what I’m going to say here to how we relate to our selves as well as others). We have opportunities to cause others so much harm. Sometimes this is ‘big’ harm- physical damage or severe emotional damage. Other times we can cause ‘small’ harm too. This ‘small’ harm, ironically, over time can cause the same or even more damage as the ‘big’ harm. We can cause this harm in all sorts of ways; decisions about how we speak to or about others as well as how we behave towards them can have a dreadful impact. As we grow, we see that these opportunities present themselves all the more often. It is a sort of ‘power’. But a power that, if exerted, is not good. Not good at all.
The antidote to this ‘power’ comes with the first half of the definition above: ‘compassion and forgiveness’. This is a wonderful ‘powerlessness’or forging of power if you will. Opportunities for forgiveness and compassion will present themselves just as often as the opportunities to cause harm- in effect they are one and the same opportunity. The road of forgiveness and compassion will usually be the harder road to travel. But whichever road we travel, its results will be multiplied and perpetuated. Which road will we take?
Jesus spoke of mercy. We can think here of two references from the Gospel of Matthew for those Bible reading folk among us. In 9:13 and 12:7 he said (referencing an Old Testament Prophet, Hosea):
“I desire not sacrifice, but mercy.” He said this to the Pharisees. These were the intelligent, law filled (law bound) Jewish leaders of his day. What he was saying, I think, was that the people of his time were caught up in sacrifices- keeping rules and regulations- that were an attempt to bring them closer to God, but which had actually BECOME their God instead. And in their application of these rules they were actually causing harm to others and getting in the way of really finding God in their midst (the ultimate irony of course is that the Pharisees were obsessed with finding God and he was standing literally in front of them but they couldn’t see!).
So Jesus told them (and us) that he desired mercy instead of sacrifice. He desired forgiveness and compassion. He wanted rules and laws to lead us to God: not for laws to become stumbling blocks to anyone finding God in their life. Laws and rules are launch pads for us to begin our search for God. No-one who wants to reach the stars stays on the launch pad…
Looking back, how wise it was for Pope Francis to have given us a Year of Mercy in 2015. Indeed, Pope Francis is, for me, the ope of mercy.
And so, my prayer is for mercy.
Mercy shown to us all, by us all.
Mercy instead of punishment.
Mercy instead of harm.
Mercy instead of laws that impede anyone searching for God in their lives.
After all, God is merciful (as a mess, I’m so thankful for this).
God is Divine Mercy if you will.