All three readings in this week’s Eucharist mention God’s mercy in specific and concrete ways. The selection from Genesis shows Abraham and God bartering about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. The second reading from Colossians speaks about God forgiving all of our transgressions in Jesus Christ by nailing them on the cross. The Gospel speaks of the neighbor who mercifully grants a request for food and parents who take care of children when they are hungry.
The Holy Father has asked us to be attentive to the virtue of mercy throughout this special jubilee year celebrating God’s mercy. Several characteristics of God’s mercy come to the fore as we consider these three readings.
The conversation between God and Abraham, though somewhat tedious in the listening and reading, shows us God’s great reluctance to exact punishment on sinners. This conversation flies in the face of people who think or even preach that God is out to get us for our offenses. God is not some divine bookkeeper who secretly wants to wreak vengeance on the sinner. When Abraham and God are finished with their conversation, God does destroy the two cities only because there were not even 10 just people in this large mass of humans.
In Colossians, the author points out that God’s work provides mercy for the Christian believer through the paschal mystery. It is only through faith in the power of God that Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus’s resurrection has consequences for the believer. We were dead in transgression, but we are brought back to life in Jesus Christ. God removed our bond of sin by nailing it to the cross.
In the Gospel we find Jesus’s sayings illustrating that good human parents want only the best for their children. They do not give something harmful instead of food. The comparison with God’s action is clear. Just as good parents always care for the good of their children, so, too, God cares for our welfare. Earlier in this Gospel we learn of the God who gives daily bread, who forgives sins, who does not subject us to the final test.
In these three readings we learn of a God who does not want to punish. We learn of a God who brings one back to life despite transgression. We learn of a God who only has care for his children.
Pope Francis, in declaring the jubilee year of mercy, almost certainly had in mind the necessity for each of us individually and as a church to keep in mind God’s attributes of mercy illustrated by this week’s readings. As followers of Jesus, we realize that only the deliberately unrepentant sinner is beyond the mercy of God. Such a sinner refuses God’s goodness. Our salvation has been won by Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection. God really and truly wants only our well-being. Pope Francis has written that the name of God is mercy. We both receive and bestow that mercy.
Jesuit Fr. Jack Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.