The message of God’s mercy is expressed in his Passion

Father John A. Kiley
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There are many majestic moments in the life of Christ that the Church could have chosen for the Gospel passage for this coming Sunday’s festival, the Solemnity of Christ the King. The glory of the Transfigured Christ comes easily to mind. The magnificent moment when Jesus fed five thousand men plus women and children is likewise easily recalled. The Resurrection and the Ascension are certainly proud and grandiose events in Christ’s earthly life. Christ’s first miracle at Cana with its abundance of wine and happy banqueters could certainly be mentioned as one of Christ’s most celebrated incidents. Yet the Church has chosen none of these festive occasions to commemorate the Kingship of Christ this year. Perhaps appropriately as Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy draws to a close, the Gospel chosen to celebrate Christ’s Kingship is the Lucan account of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death on the Cross.

The message of God’s mercy is clearly evident in the street corner instructions of Jesus, and it is well expressed through His works of healing and forgiveness throughout his entire ministry. But it is the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Christ on Calvary and his subsequent Resurrection from the dead that declares most effectively the action of God’s merciful love in this world. Mercy is graphically displayed, especially in St. Luke’s Passion narrative, when, for example, Pontius Pilate is allowed to stall his condemnation of Christ three times before giving his final death warrant to the religious leaders. Even Pilate gets a break. During the agony at Gethsemane when Christ is so personally fearful that he sweats blood and needs the consolation of angels, the merciful Savior nonetheless takes a moment to heal the ear of the servant whom St. Peter had rashly struck. Along the Via Dolorosa, the way of the Cross, Jesus, himself in great torment, takes time to console the women of Jerusalem who are bemoaning his plight along the wayside: “Weep not for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.” On the Cross, Christ prays for his executioners: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Again, even in the midst of his own cruel suffering, Jesus offers solace and hope to the repentant thief hanging alongside the Savior: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.” And Jesus kindly makes provision for the welfare of His mother from the Cross, when he entrusts her care to the apostle John, “Woman, behold your son...son, behold your mother!” Mercy permeates Jesus’ final hours.

Authors have wisely pointed out that in his 1986 Encyclical, “Dives in Misericordia, Rich in Mercy,” Pope St. John Paul II explains well the dominant role that the Passion and Death of Christ play in God’s plan of mercy. The newly canonized pontiff writes that in the Passion and Death of Christ God the Father did not spare His own Son but “for our sake made him sin.” In the humiliation of Christ’s Cross absolute mercy is expressed: an innocent Christ generously undergoes Calvary because of humanity’s sins. The sinless Christ fully assumes mankind’s wickedness. This total humiliation by Christ stores up a superabundance of mercy. The many sins of feeble mankind are undone by the single sacrifice of the Divine Son. This mercy, making up for the sins of mankind, springs completely from love, from the love of both the Father and the Son, and it therefore must always result in dynamic, productive love. Thus Divine mercy not only makes up for sin, it also restores that creative energy in mankind by which men and women once more have access to a fully active Christian life that come from God. Humankind is not only redeemed but happily restored. This is true mercy.

The Resurrection continues God’s testimony about Divine Mercy. Christ’s resurrection benefits all mankind, not just Jesus himself. Christ was raised to new life not only to vindicate his innocence but also to enable him to share his Easter triumph with all mankind. The Pope writes that the Son of God in His resurrection experienced a radical mercy toward Himself, that is, the merciful love of the Father which is always more powerful than sin and death and which is always life giving. Now the risen Christ himself is the inexhaustible source of this same radical mercy which is still more powerful than sin and death and is still life giving. Jesus Christ, wretchedly slain but majestically risen and now grandly generous toward his brothers and sisters, is God’s definitive statement on mercy; he is well deserving of his kingly dominion over all creation.