Monday, November 4, 2013

The Relevance Of Mercy

I'd like to start this post by recalling some words from yesterday's Gospel:

When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

And he came down quickly and received him with joy.

When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner."

But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over."

And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."

What is the significance of Zacchaeus's actions? Just that he came down from the tree and had Jesus over to his house?

No. It is the fact of his repentance that is the bigger deal.

Why is this a point for modern reflection?

It's because mercy has become a bit of a buzzword lately. The Holy Father has mentioned it frequently, and it's attracted a lot of attention as media types swarm to declare how revolutionary this kind of talk is and how he's changing the image of the Church from a severe, inflexible institution into one that proclaims mercy and forgiveness.

First off, the media reaction as though talk of mercy is some kind of novelty is pretty hilarious when you consider things from Blessed John Paul II making a whole feast day dedicated to the Divine Mercy or, you know, writing a whole encyclical devoted to the topic.

Second, we have to look at the concept of mercy being proclaimed by the secular world and compare it to what we see from Zacchaeus in Luke's Gospel. The difference is striking.

Zacchaeus acknowledges that he did something wrong. He vows to make amends, and Christ praises him for this. In absolute opposition to this, modernity envisions mercy as a declaration that nothing was done wrong in the first place. This, of course, leaves no room whatsoever for repentance.

It also brings up the question of what possible relevance a message of mercy can have in a world that knows no concept of sin. Can there even be such a thing? I suggest not, as the mercy craved by the world is "forgiveness" by the legitimization of sin. To phrase it in different terms, if everything was legal, we'd have no crime, and hence no need for punishment. On the same note, if everything was embraced and welcomed as moral, there would be no correction or condemnation.

Until we acknowledge our imperfections and vow to make our amends, mercy has no meaning for us. If I'm ok, and you're ok, then what need have we of God?

Man, the world is a scary place.

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