God’s unending mercy is for all persons

Father John A. Kiley

Pope St. John Paul II instructed that the Second Sunday of Easter be observed each year as Mercy Sunday, completing a novena of mercy that begins on Good Friday and then continues through the octave of Easter. Pope Francis encouraged this emphasis on mercy in his document Misericordiae Vultus, the Face of Mercy, which inaugurated the recent Jubilee of Mercy observed throughout the Catholic world in 2015. In a divided and divisive world, both pontiffs joyously intended to emphasize the universal scope of Divine Mercy. Mercy is for everyone! God clearly intends to embrace all people with His mercy as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated throughout the Church’s liturgical year repeatedly makes clear. Even before Jesus is born, Zechariah sings a hymn of praise to the Lord who gives “light to those who dwell in darkness, and the shadow of death,” namely to the Gentiles. The same theme is found in the prayer of old Simeon who speaks of Christ as a blessing for everyone: “a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The ministry of John the Baptist also helped introduce the work of universal mercy into salvation history. The Baptist’s role is explained with the all-embracing words of Isaiah: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.” There are two genealogies of Jesus in the Gospel accounts. One traces Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham, the father of all believers, but the other traces Jesus’ kinship back to Adam, the father of all mankind. That genealogy concludes with the words, “the son of Adam, the son of God,” explicitly identifying God as Adam’s father and thus the father of all mankind — believers and non-believers alike. Clearly, all descendants of Adam are children of God, and thus Jesus’ saving mission is intended to be universal in scope. Mercy is for everyone!

The public life of Jesus Christ abounds with graphic illustrations of the universal scope of God’s mercy made visible through his Divine son. The cure of the servant of the Roman centurion who was a military officer from the dreaded occupying army of Palestine shows an unexpected wideness in Divine mercy. A young man is raised to life because he was the only son of his widowed mother who would be left destitute without him. Similarly, in a parable, Lazarus, a poor, homeless, neglected sick man, is welcomed into Abraham’s bosom in heaven. Again, God’s mercy is extended by Christ to all regardless of class. A woman of questionable reputation anoints Jesus and is then forgiven her sins as a clear sign that sinners as well as the virtuous may be assured of the mercy and pardon of God. Again, women disciples who travel with Jesus and supported Him in His ministry were remembered by name by the early Christian community, a significant sign of God’s all-embracing mercy within an ancient world that considered women to rank quite low among its citizenry. Again mercy is for everyone!

Jesus quite often encounters and cures demoniacs who were at the very least psychologically challenged persons whom the ancient world little understood. Jesus dared to touch and cure lepers who were indeed medical, social, and religious outcasts. Again, even these were not beyond the mercy of God. Jesus has a lengthy dialogue with a Samaritan woman and elsewhere enshrines for all time the notion of the good Samaritan as a model of mercy. That God’s mercy extended to such heretical, sectarian Samaritan half-breeds was indeed astonishing. Jesus is recalled dining with the tax collector Zaccheus and on another occasion Jesus salutes a publican for his faith and humility while criticizing a Pharisee who should have been setting the example. Tax collectors and publican were held in special contempt since they were seen as collaborators with the hated Roman occupation. Here again, mercy triumphs over prejudice. And of course Jesus famously on the cross asks forgiveness for those who crucify Him. Mercy is for everyone!

The Old Testament peoples certainly expected to witness the mercy of God if perhaps in a somewhat restricted measure. As this Sunday’s psalm response celebrates, “Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the LORD say, “His mercy endures forever.” However the Gospel of Jesus Christ extended the mercy of God beyond all boundaries. St. Peter instructs in the second reading: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Thus God’s active mercy is meant as a consolation and inspiration for all persons. Mercy is for everyone!