Sunday, November 8, 2015

Jesus' Merciful Gestures

"Merciful like the Father"
The Jubilee Year of Mercy ultimately proposes very personal questions: Will I allow the crucified and risen Lord to carry me home to the Father?  Am I willing to look upon my neighbor, in turn, with the same merciful gaze with which Jesus looks upon me?

To become merciful requires that we first acknowledge and accept the mercy which the Lord continues to shower upon us. It means that we must let Jesus' story become our story or, rather, we must let our life story be taken up into his.

One way to do this is to notice how various moments in the life of Jesus shed light on our daily life experiences. Though there are countless moments we might focus on, here are five gestures from John's Gospel to launch us into this great moment of mercy:
  • "Jesus made a whip out of cords..." (Jn 2:15): Jesus wants our hearts to become his temple, and yet I am beset by a spirit of worldliness. I find myself unprepared to have the Lord enter under my roof--and unable to clean my own house. Whether it be pleasure, power, honor, or riches which have made my heart a marketplace, Jesus enters with authority to drive out all obstacles: "Zeal for your house will consume me". Divine mercy never leaves us to our own devices, and therefore calls us to have such zeal for the souls of others.

  • "Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger..." (Jn 8:6): Jesus wants us to be less concerned about the sins of others and more alert to our own need of God's grace. The line in the sand here redirects my eyes from my neighbor's bad decisions to my own. If I am humble enough to read the word which the Lord writes on the ground regarding the state of my own soul, if I am not so sanctimonious as to demand both condemnation for others and leniency for myself, then I might stand with the woman long enough to hear Jesus' healing words spoken to both of us: "Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more". Divine mercy is a "performative" utterance--it empowers us to be who God wills us to be.
  • "Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva..." (Jn 9:6): Jesus does not want us to wander blindly any longer, or to feel that our "issues" are somehow tied to being unworthy of him. Here the Lord's spittle is enough to open the eyes of the man blind from birth. This is good news, indeed, regarding all of those seemingly ancient wounds and dysfunctions which continue to burden me. The Light of the world wants to help me re-envision everything, so my response can be like the man's: "I was blind and now I see"! Divine mercy is recreating the whole world; in the process, we who were formerly blind get sent into the world with authentic sympathy and understanding for those who still long to see.

  • "Jesus took a towel and tied it around his waist..." (Jn 13:4): Jesus humbles himself taking the form of the slave, who alone would do the "dirty job" of washing the feet of another. Placing my bare feet into the Lord's hands leaves me very vulnerable, though the towel helps soften the experience. When I try to protest with Peter, "You will never wash my feet", I quickly realize that I'm more concerned about my embarrassed ego than his debased divinity (not these gnarly feet, Lord!). And yet, as Jesus pats them dry, my feet somehow seem ready to go wherever he wants them to go. Divine mercy refocuses the footwork of our lives, so that when we meet the vulnerability of others, we always remember how gentle Jesus was with the towel.
  • "Jesus breathed on them..." (Jn 20:22): Jesus longs to pass through our locked doors in order to drive away all of our fears. Even when I try to hide, the Lord stands nearby offering his peace. Inhaling, he draws me into the eternal Communion of Persons; exhaling, he propels me forward: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you". The breath of Divine Mercy sends us flying forth as bearers of new life, like dandelion seeds scattered in all directions.

May the Jubilee Year of Mercy help our hearts stay open to Jesus gratuitous gestures of love each day, so that we might be "merciful like the Father" toward all those we encounter on our journey Home--

Grace and Peace,

P.S. Got mercy?!  Consider checking out Bishop Robert Barron's commentary on What Pope Francis Means by Mercy.