The Name of God is Mercy - Third week in Ordinary Time (C)

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On the 12th January a book on the thought of Pope Francis was released - amazingly in 86 countries simultaneously. The book is an account of the thought of Pope Francis on the theme of mercy and it's the result of three long interviews with the Pope by Italian journalist, Andrea Tornielli. The title of the book is "The Name of God is Mercy".

At the same time the Pope commenced a series of weekly catecheses on the biblical teaching on mercy placing this series under the same title, "the name of God is mercy".

Clearly both are appropriate ways in which the Pope will be able to speak on the subject of mercy as the Jubilee Year of Mercy gets underway.

Central to the Pope's thought about mercy is his personal awareness that he is a sinner. He has said on a number of occasions, "the Pope is a sinner". In the book he mentions that in visiting people in prison he has often asked himself - "why them and not me". As Pope he takes great consolation in the fact that despite Peter's denial of the Lord, he was still chosen to the leader of the Church.

The Pope's motto is not an easy one to translate and to understand: Miserando atque eligendo. They are words he came across in the writings of the English Monk, the Venerable Bede. They refer to the call of the tax collector, St Matthew. He says in his book that he changed the original words a little and that strictly the motto says, mercying him and choosing him. Jesus, in an act of mercy chooses him.

All this reveals that mercy has been in the forefront of the thought and personal spirituality of the Pope. So at one level we should not be at all surprised that he has called for an Extraordinary Jubilee on the theme of mercy.

He comments in the book that the Church is called upon to dispense its mercy over all those who recognise themselves as sinners, adding, "who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed". The Church, he says, "does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God's mercy".

Today we commence our liturgical reading of St Luke's Gospel in the third of the cycles of readings in the Sunday Liturgy. We commence - after the opening comments by the Gospel writer of his intentions - to take up the story of the public ministry of the Lord, with the description of the return of Jesus to his home town of Nazareth.

On the Sabbath he was invited to choose a reading from the Prophet Isaiah. He selected one of the Messianic passages beginning with the words, "the spirit of the Lord has been given to me."

The passage goes on to describe the mission of the Messiah in these words, very familiar to us, "He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour".

He then makes the bold declaration: "this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen". He is declaring the fact that this messianic prophesy is being fulfilled in him. He is the Messiah.

As we look then at the public ministry of Jesus how does he fulfil these words of the prophet?

Good news to the poor: clearly this is expressed through his public preaching and teaching. While sometimes in Synagogues and in the Temple precincts, more often it is in the market squares, on by the Sea of Galilee or on the sides of hills when the people gather around him. These people, are in the main, the poor and struggling, we might use the word, "the battlers". Certainly these people also included those who were more public sinners, the prostitutes and tax collectors.

Proclaim liberty to captives: how was this achieved? It was not through political activity or through movements of social change. The captive he set free were those bound by disease or demonic possession, and more importantly for the Lord himself, those bound by sin.

Giving sight to the blind: this was expressed of course in the act of literally giving back the sight to those born blind. The Gospels record a number of such miracles. But the Lord also spoke of himself as the Light of the World. Those who follow him will not be walking in darkness. Clearly he also wanted people to see a path for their life. He wanted to enlighten their minds with the truth about God and about human life.

Set the downtrodden free: his ministry among the people gave them new hope. He inspired them and encouraged them. Those burdened in life found a refreshment to their spirits as they listened to him. They came in their thousands to listen to him because he spoke like no one they had heard before. They were touched and went home with a renewed heart. Their burdens were lifted and their hearts healed.

His ministry clearly proclaimed that this was a time of the Lord's favour. The people knew that God was visiting them in the figure of the Son of Man from Nazareth.

We could safely say that the ministry of Jesus was an sign, an expression, a revelation, of the mercy in the heart of God for humanity. Certainly, later in the Gospel, St Luke would explore this notion of the merciful heart of the Father in the great parables in Chapter 15 - the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son.

The Gospel accounts of the public ministry of the Lord are truly all about mercy. The name of God is indeed mercy.

There is a grace connected with this Jubilee Year. It is a grace for each of us. Pope Francis knows well how this grace can be experienced. Mercy comes to those who can call themselves sinners; the more we can honestly say that I am a sinner; the more we find ourselves moved to deep sorrow for our sins; the more we find ourselves wanting to be humble before the Lord; the more we will cry out with utter conviction: "Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy". We will not say it just once. We will not just say to in a passing manner. Rather we will find ourselves saying it over and over again. We will find this prayer becoming central to all the prayers we pray. When we come into a church we will want to say as we gaze upon the presence on the Lord in the tabernacle, "Lord be merciful to me a sinner".

Saying this prayer over and over again we will cry out for mercy. We will know ourselves unworthy before God.

And the floodgates will open in the heavens. Mercy will flow like a torrent. Mercy will refresh the dry and arid heart. Mercy will cleanse our souls. Mercy will revive our spirits. And Mercy will enable us to love - as we have not loved before.

Archbishop Julian Porteous