God’s mercy is universal and unending

Father John A. Kiley

The angels’ Christmas invitation to the shepherds to hasten to Bethlehem to worship the newborn Christ was the first of many proclamations to outsiders in St. Luke’s narrative revealing to them and to the world the wideness of God’s mercy. “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord,” announced the heavenly choir. The shepherds in turn “made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been revealed to them by the shepherds.” And thus began the good news of the universal scope of God’s Divine mercy, a theme happily highlighted by St. Luke throughout his Gospel narrative.

Deliberately highlighting the breadth of God’s mercy, St. Luke is careful to place the full quote from Isaiah on the lips of St. John the Baptist when the precursor declares, “Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low…and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” The entire human race, Jew and Gentile alike, is to find a blessing in Christ, a revelation further emphasized by St. Luke’s tracing Christ’s ancestry back to Adam rather than simply to Abraham. In Christ all peoples, every human being, are to be blessed. Every gender, class, race, religion, and moral bent is the object of God’s Divine mercy and the subject of Jesus’ universal saving mission.

Consider the lengthy list of marginal people who are touched by Christ in St. Luke’s Gospel of Mercy. A Roman centurion of the occupying Imperial army has his servant healed. A destitute widow has her son restored to life. A lady of the evening is allowed to bathe Jesus’ feet. Several women who supported Jesus and his disciples “out of their means” are mentioned by name. Feared demoniacs are encountered and healed. Shunned lepers are embraced and cured. Jesus eats with Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector and with Simon, the self-righteous Pharisee.

St. Luke even takes it easy on the Gentile leader Pontius Pilate. Pilate attempts to release Jesus three times in St. Luke’s Passion account before finally conceding to the demanding crowd. On his way to Calvary, Jesus takes time to console the weeping women and their families: “Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.” Even on the Cross Jesus prays for his persecutors, Jew and Gentile alike: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ extends mercy to the repentant thief hanging with him on Calvary: “Amen I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.” A Roman centurion makes the final act of faith in Jesus expiring on the cross: “The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” Clearly St. Luke omits no word, no gesture, that would extend the mercy of God to all peoples. Through Christ no one is to be excluded from God’s merciful embrace.

Still even more important than the Lucan words, gestures and symbols found throughout Jesus’ public life and on Calvary, Jesus himself personally shows throughout his dreadful passion and death that he is giving his life for the salvation of the whole world. What miracle, what saying, what gesture of kindness, could more vividly and more assuredly display both the depth and the wideness of God’s mercy than the sacrificial death of God’s own beloved Son on the Cross which simultaneously atoned for mankind’s sins and affirmed God’s universal love.

The ultimate confirmation of God’s universal and ceaseless mercy is, of course, the Easter morning resurrection of Christ from the grave. Through the resurrection of Christ God is proving that his love and mercy are more powerful than sin and even more powerful than death. The gloriously triumphant Christ is God’s decisive manifestation of mercy. The risen Christ reveals the whole Good News. Thus St. Luke places the joyous theme of universal love and expansive mercy on Jesus’ lips when he records the Savior’s last words at his Ascension urging the disciples to preach the Gospel “to all nations.” No one is to be denied access to God’s victorious mercy.