Mercy Not Sacrifice
Easter! The Resurrection of the Lord! What a glorious and joyous season. We have fasted, given alms and prayed. We have done what the Church called us to, in imitation of the Lord, in order to follow more closely in His footsteps. All this is good. But, now what?
I can’t help wondering, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy—and I do not exclude myself from this—how much we have learned about mercy in our Lenten call to conversion, to metanoia, to turning around and turning toward the Lord.
Have we taken on penance and sacrifice just because that’s our Catholic Lenten practice? Or, did our hearts really enter into Lent intending that our deeper Lenten walk with the Lord would bring us closer to Him, and to one and other for the sake of His Kingdom?
What are prayer, fasting and almsgiving? If they are merely a checklist, punch list or bucket list, something to get through and stop afterward, something we did so as not to appear out of step, something with which others could congratulate us with, or we could congratulate ourselves with, I submit that our mercy does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf Matthew 5:20).
Our Lord calls us to surpass their meager offering with some very stern words. If the way we offer mercy isn’t better than this, if it is simply pro forma, He Himself says, “…[we] shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That’s a pretty sobering statement. And, Christ instructs us to learn the meaning of the words “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (cf Matthew 9:13).
So, what is an offering of mercy that’s better than that of the scribes and Pharisees? It is mercy that is forgetful of self, an extra-eager joyful and tender mercy that we should desire, without selfish restraint, to lavish on others, just as God has lavished on us!
An extra mercy. Our Blessed Savior both taught and exemplified this. He said, “…When someone strikes you on [your] cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Matthew 5:39-42). This is what we hear in Isaiah 50:6 about the Suffering Servant: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” Having just observed the Holy Triduum, we are reminded of all that our Lord Jesus, in His great and unfathomable mercy, did for us while we were still sinners: how He indeed went the extra mile, and more than that for us, for our salvation, and as an example for us that, as He has done, we are also to do.
An eager mercy. It is mercy which imitates Jesus who eagerly desired to eat the Passover meal with His disciples (cf Luke 22:5), wherein when He instituted the Eucharist, he handed over His Body and Blood to His Disciples, in anticipation of His own Paschal sacrifice. And, He did so, with a deep longing, looking forward to what He was about to do for all mankind and saying to Judas, “What you are going to do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). It’s as if Christ were saying—Let’s get this show on the road!” And, it’s not unlike when Mary went in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth who was expecting St. John the Baptist (cf Luke 1:39). Mercy does not wait!
A joyful mercy. Just as he was eager to hand Himself over to His disciples, and to the world, Jesus did so “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him [and He] endured the cross” (cf Hebrews 12:2). In other words, it was and is a mercy that is joyful. How difficult and excruciating the cross was for Him. How sad, and yet, how joyful it was for Him, knowing He was doing the Father’s will, the food which sustained Him, His heritage, and ours, forever. In fact, this is why He came: that His own joy, that joy that He had in winning our salvation, might be in us, and our joy might be complete (cf John 15:11). And, this is the kind of joyful mercy we are also to have: the mercy that finds it’s joy in doing the will of God because it is God’s will.
A tender mercy. Even if our mercy is extra-eager and joyful, it does not surpass that of above the narcissistic offering of the scribes and Pharisees if it is not also tender. Christ never forced Himself on anyone, nor does He do so now. Rather, He counsels and invites, He teaches and inspires, He gives us His example to follow, sometimes He also cajoles, but at all times, He respects the dignity and freedom of every human being to freely choose God. This is “the tender mercy of our God” which Zechariah spoke of in the temple (cf Luke 1:78). This is the type of compassion, or mercy, which God has for the faithful, just like a father has for his children (cf Psalm 103:13), for He knows our weakness and how we were formed. Our mercy must be tender like His.
Supernatural mercy. To be sure, extra-eager joyful and tender mercy is a kind of supernatural mercy that allows us to ascend to the heart of God in our self-giving to others. It is not something that we generate ourselves…but we can take steps toward if we will daily give ourselves to Him and to others. When we do this, as we are on our way, the Lord readily steps in to effect the cure and help us in our journey. May He fill us with His superabundant mercy, now and during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and in the years to come.
May you and I learn the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
Art: Modification of Easter Lily Cross, Olive E. Whitney, 1861-1897, PD-US published before January 1, 1923; Head of a Pharisee, Mihaly Munkacsy, 1881, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; Cabeza de Jesús (Head of Jesus), Enrique Simonet, 1890-1891, PD-US author’s life plus 80 years or less; Die Rückkehr des verlorenen Sohns (The Return of the Prodigal Son), Otto Mengelberg, 1848, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; all Wikimedia Commons.