by Fr Duncan McVicar on 17/04/2016 -
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.
In the New Testament, we have magnificent examples of witness to God’s endless mercy. One of the examples is the beautiful Magnificat of Our Lady in the Gospel of Saint Luke. It is worthwhile to put ourselves in the role of the singer – i.e. the Blessed Mother – and with Mary to sing our own, personal Magnificat. We can divide the text into different themes: the power of God, the mercy of God, and then the faithfulness of God. Once you have read the Magnificat in the Gospels, it’s really worthwhile making this song of Mary your own personal prayer and hymn to God. Where do we experience the power of God in our lives? Where do we experience the merciful love of God, or the faithfulness of God in our own lives? Our Lady sings: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:49). What is Our Lady singing about? What is she revealing to be the foundation of her own life and faith? She is singing firstly about the power of God in her life – the same power that has protected her through all the years and has guided her up till now. For this reason, Our Lady sings: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour (Luke 1:46-47). Mary is not satisfied with just praying quietly: She wants to sing and rejoice and thank God with all her heart. She realizes that God has done something wonderful to her and in her. She realizes that her life has changed in a massive way. So what has the power of God brought about in the life of Mary? She is the Immaculate Conception, she was protected from original sin. Our Lady realizes that great and wonderful things have happened to her and are happening to her, so she praises God and she thanks God for the wonderful experience she makes in her life with him. What has God’s power achieved in the life of Our Lady? She became the Mother of God. Not only God’s Mother, but also his “permanent companion in the whole history of salvation” [Father Joseph Kentenich]. The Saviour would not have entered our world without the “yes” of the handmaiden of Nazareth. So we see here that Mary’s source of trust and energy for her faith is God’s power in her life. Salvation is also the product of God’s endless power. Our Lady too has been saved through the power of God. And we should also be saved through the power of God. Our entire world, that suffers so much and is steeped in so much pain and hopelessness, should find redemption through the power of God. This is where Our Lady finds the reason for her trust. She believes in God’s power in her life, and she has experienced his power in her life.
However, there is another reason for Our Lady’s trust. She doesn’t only experience how almighty God us, she also experiences, in a wonderful way, his endless mercy. Israel has been chosen by God to be a special people – this is nothing else than an act of mercy. Even though Israel, has been so often unfaithful to God, and has broken so many times the covenant with God, but still God reaches out to this chosen people. He does so with unconditional love and endless mercy. He forgives all their sins and failings and he is completely faithful to them no matter what. Here again we see the source of Our Lady’s trust, and the source of her strong faith: She believes in the mercy of God. She has experienced the mercy of God. She knows that God’s mercy is a reality. That’s why she can sing: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50). This means that God’s mercy is something that can be experienced here and now, just as Our Lady experienced it two thousand years ago. It is the same God, and it is the same endless mercy. Today, where so many people are lost and searching for meaning and answers, God’s mercy is available, God’s mercy is present, God’s mercy is there for them.
So where does Our Lady base her trust? She finds her trust firstly on the foundation of God’s power; then secondly, on the foundation of his mercy; and then thirdly she finds her trust relying on God’s faithfulness. God is faithful because he keeps his promises. His promises give us hope and we can rely on him in every circumstance of our lives. Mary drew strength from the reality that God was always at her side and she knew that she could count on him and that he would be there for her. She never doubted God’s faithfulness and that is why she trusted him. Mary sings: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:54-55)
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