Mercy is the theme that threads itself through the readings today. To receive mercy is to receive a gift we know we do not ever really deserve. It is an extraordinary experience of being loved and freed which restores a sense of relationship and hope. There is something energising about the experience of mercy. It naturally awakens in us a desire to try again because of the deep sense of gratitude one feels. It is the experience of sin and of mercy that often shakes us out of an apathetic following of Christ and is transformative.
This dynamic is so evident in the musical and movie Les Miserables. The main character, Jean Valjean, has been jailed with hard labour for years for stealing a loaf of bread when he was starving. When he is eventually released, he cannot find work. Starving and in despair, a kindly bishop gives him hospitality for the night. In desperation he steals some of the Bishop’s silverware and makes off with it. The police arrest him and drag him back to the Bishop’s house. In an act of extraordinary mercy the Bishop tells the police that the silverware was not stolen but was a gift to Valjean and that, in addition, he wants him to have the two expensive silver candlesticks he had “forgotten” as well. This experience of abundant mercy provides the impetus for Valjean to start a whole new life.
By its nature, mercy has no limits. Mercy is a key attribute of God and also a quality we are called to show in our relationship with others. There is the expectation and hope that God will receive us with gentleness and mercy, because that is who God is, but there is also the invitation for us to become more like the God of mercy ourselves. Where a relationship remains destructive to us we may need to keep a distance to protect ourselves, while at the same time, remembering the mercy God has shown us, asking that his mercy may spill over allowing us to forgive and to experience the freedom mercy brings.