A life in service of mercy is also a life in service of justice, truth, hope and peace

The Colours of Mercy

Mercy can have many different outward ‘colours’. When we take action where people have suffered injustice, and attempt to bring about changes in situations that violate human dignity, then we are serving justice. When we are honest and straightforward in our relations with one another, then we are serving the truth. When we ourselves assume an attitude of peace and tolerance, then we are serving peace in the world. When we, in our concrete work situations, continue to bear witness to our hope, then we are serving the faith in a God of love and mercy. Thus, a life lived in the service of mercy is also a life lived in the service of justice, truth, hope and peace.

1. Mercy as love

Love and mercy are in real life inseparable. God’s love for man truly speaking can only be merciful love. The Father’s love for man is an act of mercy. The parable of the Good Samaritan gives us some insight into this (Luke 10:29-36). The Samaritan reached out to the wounded man out of mercy. The wounded man did not even belong to ‘his tribe’. He had all the justifications to ignore him. But moved by mercy for this unknown victim of the violence of the day, he treated him as though he were his blood brother. And on the basis of this Jesus concluded this teaching by the words, “Go, and do the same yourself”. By these words Jesus sets new standards for love, and by extension mercy. ‘Do for the other what his real brother/sister would do for him in time of need’. The wounded man is the image of the human being, and the Good Samaritan is Jesus, who sacrifices all for lesser beings out of merciful love. Hence there are no longer excuses for not reaching out with food, medicines, water and other life-supporting necessities for the children in Southern Sudan or those in Somalia who die every day due to lack of these goods. It is inexcusable to say ‘they are not of my country’. Such is the challenge of mercy in our global world today.

2. Mercy as dialogue

Dialogue is communication. To communicate with the other so that he also can know, can understand, is a great need of our time. And so dialogue is nothing else but removing the veil that covers people’s eyes. To communicate is to break down walls that keep people apart, walls that inspire hatred and violence among peoples of different races, tribes, faiths and ideologies. The dialogue of the Father with man was the incarnation. In Jesus the Father has fully revealed Himself to man, and through Jesus the human being can fully reveal himself to God. The biblical case of such a dialogue is best represented by the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus overcame the walls that kept Jews and Samaritans apart by engaging in a heart-to-heart dialogue with a Samaritan woman. At the threshold, this woman had a lot to hide, and a lot to be embarrassed about. And so when Jesus asked her to go and call her husband (John 4:16), she hid the fact that five men had gone through her life, and she was on her sixth man. Even in our modern liberalized society, who would not be embarrassed about such a life? Yet in this dialogue Jesus manages to go around these sensitive and sharp edges to the astonishment of this woman, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have done; could this be the Christ?” (John 4:26).

3. Mercy as peace

Peace building efforts are a special face of mercy in action. All peace lovers can be classified as merciful people. Perpetration of violence, even when it can be justified, is offensive to the calling of mercy.

Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be recognized as children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Peace was also his special gift to his disciples upon his ascension to heaven, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36). When in our own country Kenya post-election violence threatened to spill blood on an unprecedented level, many eminent people from all quarters rushed to our rescue by leading peace efforts. The driving force for these men and women can more correctly be discerned as mercy for the Kenyan people. On the graves of our beloved ones we often read the message, ‘Rest in Peace’. When we express this wish for our loved ones lying beneath the face of the earth, we express a profound sense of mercy for them and indeed for ourselves when our turn to join them comes. We recognize their struggles and challenges on earth, and we sigh a sense of relief that it is now over, and they can sleep in peace for eternity.

4. Mercy as justice

The encyclical “Rich in Mercy” of Pope John Paul II treats the uneasy relationship between mercy and justice. John Paul II argues that justice deprived of mercy becomes in fact ‘injustice’ to the victim (no. 12). Mercy makes justice acceptable and able to serve the corrective aim of all punishments. Mercy is not about the aggressed swapping places with the aggressor. Rather, “mercy is manifested in its true and proper aspect when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man” (no. 6). No punishment should be exercised in such a manner that it deprives the victim of an opportunity to reform. In Kenya, particularly in urban places, it is not uncommon to see mobs baying for the blood of another person in the name of justice. John’s Gospel chapter 8 gives a good example of this reality played out before the Face of Mercy (Jesus). It is instructive to note that Jesus, when pressed to intervene, did not focus his first attention on the woman, but on the men baying for her blood – ‘if you have no sin, be the first to throw the stone’. With this simple message Jesus gave a fundamental teaching regarding how we should treat those we regard to be deserving of punishment as a restoration of just
relationships in society.

5. Mercy as truth

Obviously we should make one point clear: mercy is not about hiding or burying one’s face in the sand, or turning the other way so that you may appear not to have seen a situation that requires action. On the contrary, mercy can only be mercy when it rests on the bosom of truth, the truth about man – sinful man. The encounter of Jesus with Zacchaeus offers us a good example (Luke 19). The self-invitation of Jesus to Zacchaeus’ house and the equally generous acceptance of this invitation demonstrate how the interplay of truth and mercy can be exercised in real life. Jesus knew and understood Zacchaeus’ background, and Zacchaeus accepted deeply and humbly his own unenviable standing in the religious society of his time. He was a man considered to be far divorced from salvation. This story teaches us that people are not afraid about the truths of their lives, even the most embarrassing truths, as long as we can access this part in mercy as Jesus did.

The search for truth should not be left to the exploration in sciences that uncover laws of nature. A human being is a far more complex being. Man, good or bad, in a sense enjoys a special protection with regard to his God-given human rights that may not be violated under the guise of searching for the truth. No matter how bad he may be, he should never be approached as though he were just living biological matter.

6. Mercy as gladness

Mercy as gladness is that ability for each person to recognize his or her need for mercy. And here it is not only true for divine mercy but even for human mercy. It is a joyful and non-complicated way of accepting our limitations. It is perhaps easy to practice mercy towards others but more difficult to receive mercy. In her Magnificat, Mary gives us the best example of how to receive God’s mercy: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour; for He has looked upon the humiliation of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48). Mary, though recognized as having no personal sin, receives God’s mercy as though she was a great sinner. Her son Jesus would continue with this humility. He went about doing good and healing people in his public ministry. But on Calvary He became Himself a person in need of mercy.

Jesus’ behaviour on the cross, as sung by the early Christians (Phil 2:5-11) demonstrated his greatness in receiving mercy at his lowest point in life. He generously rewarded the ‘good thief’ who bestowed mercy on Him by declaring Him innocent. None of us is so self-sufficient as to always be the only one assisting others. None of us is always right and has never the need to say: “I am sorry, please pardon me”. And even the poorest of the poor can give us something back, a smile, a blessing. We should attach value to that too.

7. Mercy as hope

Who among us can live without hope? What would life be if all ended with death? That indeed would have deprived human life of real meaning. But for the Christian, life on earth is a rehearsal for life in eternity. Just as St. Paul talks of ‘no gospel without the resurrection’, so for us too there is no ‘life without eternity’. Life would be unbearable and meaningless. And so hope for salvation has inspired human history and rendered meaning to human existence. And yet a critical look at this hope rests on God’s mercy. Indeed for many people God’s mercy is the only realistic avenue through which salvation can be accessed. And so the notion of salvation merited through good lives excludes a vast majority of humanity.

In recent times, specifically in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, the Feast of Divine Mercy celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter was inaugurated. Within Church circles various movements promoting trust in God’s mercy have increased. For instance, from the 2nd to the 6th of April 2008, the First World Congress on Divine Mercy was hosted in Rome and participants came in the thousands from all quarters of the universal Church to make a statement about this great spirituality of our time. This congress brought together people from far beyond the confines of the Catholic Church; they were all united in confessing trust in God’s mercy at this point in history as the only source that brings peoples together as one family – giving hope to a new world held together by bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood. The Congregation as a stake-holder in the spirituality of mercy
was represented at this congress by two Brothers CMM.

Brother Andrea Sifuna
Kenya, April 2008