Reach out with Mercy

03-24-2019Pastoral ReflectionsFr. Brian F. Manning

Our Church theological view is that as Christians we are a people who survive on the mercy of God, not solely on our own merit. In this papacy Pope Francis proclaims mercy in its various modes as our motto and also to be lived in our daily lives. Mercy must be the singular hall-mark of all who follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. For Christians, mercy must become our point of view in looking at our world. This certainly does not mean looking at the world and offering shallow sympathy. Instead, it means looking at our world and embracing it, living in it with its struggles and sufferings, and showing compassionate kindness to one and all.

The connection of mercy to God is so obvious. In this weekend’s readings, we see mercy all over again. In the passage from great Book of Exodus, we learn how God sees the children of Abraham enslaved and afflicted in Egypt. Indeed, God hears their cries, knows their suffering, and responds. God turns to them with mercy. So merciful is God, we hear how God’s very self is revealed to Moses and the Israelites (and ultimately to us). Behold: this is the God who is involved in life and also who creates, sustains, and is life. Moses is called to a new vocation by this God. The great Moses is to lead the people and to speak of mercy in God’s name. The Israelites have called on God for mercy and God responds mercifully by sending a leader who will help them.

In Paul’s letter we are reminded that we are all beneficiaries of God’s mercy. Bear in mind, however, that mercy may be ours, but we may choose to reject it through sin.

Our Gospel reading dramatically begins with a warning. Using the unfortunate Galileans as a powerful example, Jesus urges us not to put off conversion of our hearts. Indeed, now—the present—is the time to change our lives. The Gospel ends with a story about a fig tree, which in biblical lore is a wonderful fruit- and life-bearing tree. A landowner has planted and cared for a fig tree, but the tree has done very poorly. The idea of the tree wasting space and time is mentioned. The story teller suggests surely it is only right to cut it down. We hear how the gardener asks the owner for more time to give it even more care. The owner offers if the tree continues to remain fruitless, only then should it be cut down. This story again reminds us that although the mercy of God is great and deep, we must meet our part by responding to mercy in turning away from sin and also reaching out with mercy to others.

Today’s liturgy brings to mind from my high school years the famous passage in the Merchant of Venice where Shakespeare pens that mercy is “twice blest,” blessing both the person who receives and the one who bestows it.

We often forget that we as the Church are a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners, people who receive and also offer mercy. We are called in our life each day to understanding, to big-heartedness, open-mindedness, and gushing mercy. Note most clearly that responding to that call means not to rebuke, but to reclaim; not to exclude, but to include; not to fault, but to forgive. Responding to that call means being people who are both blest and blessing. We are not to be judgmental, nasty, bitter, or angry people.

It is not always easy to make the mercy and love of our God manifest in our daily lives. We all know this. However, this is what we are called to do and must each day strive to do. Each morning when we awake and arise, we must begin again to offer this mercy and love of our God to each person that we meet.