Another example of the witness of mercy in the New Testament is Jesus as the Good Shepherd – If we look at the witness of the Gospel of Luke, particularly in this Year of Faith, we see that the whole Gospel of Luke is just one the hymn of praise, sung to the mercy of God. Luke praises God’s merciful love! This is the love and the mercy that is given to us in abundance, even though we haven’t earned or merited it. One of the symbols of this praise is the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus shows himself as the Shepherd of merciful love who comes to the aid of the sinner and looks for those who are lost. How often does Jesus call himself the Good Shepherd? How often did he tell the story, for example, of the lost coin, or the lost sheep, or the lost son? God’s love and mercy reaches out to the lost and also reaches out to the poor and marginalized. Jesus introduces himself and presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He is the Good Shepherd who is always with the sheep. What does a Good Shepherd do? A good Shepherd protects the sheep, and leads them to good meadows and good pasture (Ezekiel 34:15f): “For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Exekiel 34:12-16) The Good Shepherd is the one who gives his life for his sheep (John 10:11.15). The Good Shepherds knows his own, cares for them, loves them to the end and will always be faithful to them: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to show and reveal and prove his endless merciful love in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we see the same realities over again. Jesus is always with us. We have a living God in our life, who knows about us, cares about us and is interested in us. We have Emmanuel! He is the God who is with us, who is in our lives and wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. He is always with us, and we should always strive to be with him. He is also the one who brings us to good pastures. He gives us his own Body and Blood so that we can eat and drink. It is this good Shepherd who takes each and every one of us into his sacrifice of love to the Father: “So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:53-56).
The understanding and significance of mercy in the New Testament flows from the witness of the Old Testament – there is a powerful continuity at work. Some parts of the Old Testament are even quoted in the New Testament, regarding the reality and power of mercy. There are many texts in the New Testament that speak about the merciful love of God to his people: for example, we have the different parables that Jesus told to reveal to us how powerful the merciful love of God is: The parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and also the parable of the loss coin (Luke 15:8-10) are all wonderful examples. In all these parables the merciful love of God, our Father, becomes so clear and comforting. The Gospel of Luke, without doubt, is where the theme and the witness of mercy is expressed in a special way. For this reason St Luke’s Gospel is also known as the “Gospel of mercy”. In this Gospel, we have, for example, the wonderful song of Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:50), and the three Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son (Chapter 15). Jesus does not only speak about the merciful love of God. His proclamation of God’s mercy is intimately connected with all that he does and says, and his own personal life. Because he wants to proclaim mercy everywhere and at all times, Christ heals the sick, he comforts the sad and he goes out of his way to encounter in love the sinner, and even goes out of his way to find the lost at every turn. At the same time, Jesus calls his followers to follow his example and be inspired and motivated by love and mercy. They should allow their own lives and actions to be guided by the gift of mercy. Jesus asks us to be merciful to each other. And he praises those and calls them blessed who are willing to give this kind of love to others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). Jesus challenges us to be truly merciful to each other and also to forgive each other. Naturally, the request to forgive each other in generosity does not cancel out the demands of justice. When we forgive, when we show mercy, it never means that we capitulate before evil, or before suffering or insults. Each time in the Gospels, for example, when forgiveness is talked about or explained, it always includes the message to put things right and to alleviate suffering, and even to perform atonement for the many hurts or insults that have been endured. For this reason, justice will always belong to the basic structure of mercy. However, mercy gives justice and much deeper and much more healing content. This expresses itself in the fullest way when we forgive each other. Continue reading “Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part III”
In Part I, we looked at the mercy of God through the yes of the prophet Hosea. In Part II, we will continue the message of mercy from the Prophet Isaiah. The second prophet that reveals God’s mercy in a special way is the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the prophet during the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel. Israel experienced the Exile as very difficult time of punishment and loss, where they felt that God had left them altogether and had abandoned them. The people felt completely without hope and their misery and exile comes from the fact that God had turned his back on them. In the middle of this dire situation, a new and unexpected prophetic message comes to the people in exile – this is the second and third generation of Israel living in Babylon. The message is a message of love, comfort and hope: God is returning to his people and has never forgotten them. God is still faithful. There is a new hope. The prophet Isaiah uses a very human and very powerful image to express God’s love and mercy for his people:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15).
In this message of the prophet Isaiah, we see again God’s mercy and love towards his people. God compares himself to a mother and reaches out to his chosen people with a mother’s heart and tenderness. Isaiah also says to the people you should rejoice and you should be happy now and you should break into song because God has come back to his people and those who have been broken and humiliated will receive his mercy again:
Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. (see Isaiah 44:23).
He tells his people that he’s never forgotten them, and to prove that he has never forgotten them, he reveals to the people a unique symbol of mercy, that will be completely understood by by any people at any time; and that is the image of the love of a mother towards her child. God, however, even goes further than this. He tells the people that even if a mother should forget her child – which is practically impossible –then God still will never forget his people even though they have sinned against him and even though they have broken the covenant with him. He tells his people: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16). This is a symbol of a faithfulness and a mercy that can never be broken. Isaiah is also the prophet who will later prophesy about the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who will bring the boundless mercy of the Father in the greatest and most powerful way. It is this Son of God who will take away the sins of the world.