April 16, 2023
John 20: 19-31
Today is Mercy Sunday. Often people think of mercy being balanced with justice as in a court of law. Shakespeare goes beyond this in the famous speech given by Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained…It is an attribute to God himself..’
When we look at the meaning of this word, mercy, Scripture gives us a deeper meaning of what this attribute of God truly is. In the Old Testament the word used for mercy is hesed. In Hebrew this word hesed , means; loving kindness; tender compassion; steadfast love. In the New Testament the Greek word “mercy” is the word “eleos.” The Greek word comes from a root word meaning oil that is poured out. Olive oil was used to treat wounds and is soothing, comforting, and healing. The word ‘eleos’ speaks then of a merciful God who is all of this. When we pray the Greek words ‘ Kyrie Eleison, and ‘Christie Eleison’ we are praying, ‘Lord, enfold me in your loving kindness, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Each morning as we pray Benedictus Canticle in the breviary’ we hear Zachariah proclaim a translation of mercy as in the word ‘hesed’ used in the Hebrew Scripture: ‘the loving kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high’
Today on Mercy Sunday and in the Gospel Jesus, the Incarnate Risen Lord, in person, reveals to us the living reality of the loving kindness of the heart of our God. The Disciples like the Prodigal Son were in a pit. Granted it was not a literal ‘pig-pit’, but it was the pit of depression; a pit of fear of the Jews; a dark pit filled with guilt that they had abandoned the Lord when he most needed his friends. Unlike the Prodigal Son they had no home to return to. The one who had said to them just three nights before, ‘Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.’ was dead. They had no home now.
It was into this dark pit of depression; fear and guilt that Jesus returned home to their hearts. They did not have to travel to find him; – he came to them in the depths of their despair. Jesus greeted his friends with the word he always used when they came together. His “Shalom” – “Peace”, would allay their fears, and assure them that it was really himself; Jesus, their beloved friend. In Hebrew, ‘Shalom’ means, ‘I wish you the fullness of well-being of mind and body and soul.’ John tells us: ‘The Disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. ’They were so filled with joy that they were dumbfounded. Joy was the first gift Jesus gave to his friends after his Resurrection.
Eight days later Jesus came specially to take Thomas out of his misery! This is our God who comes to us with loving kindness when we are most in need of comfort, as Thomas probably was at that time. Jesus had promised them joy the night before he died ‘You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy.’ He tells us just as he told the Disciples: ‘Ask and you will receive, and so your joy will be complete.’ He also said: ‘There will be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.’ It is rather lovely to think that we can make God’s joy complete when as prodigal sons or daughters we accept ‘the loving kindness of the heart of our God who visits us like the dawn from on high.” (Maybe that was what Shakespeare meant when he was speaking of mercy: ‘It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes’ Like the father of the Prodigal Son, Jesus needed no explanations of his friend’s downfalls. Instead he totally embraced them in the loving kindness of the heart of our God.
I would like to thank Mister Google who helped me to teasle out in Scripture the words, ‘hesed’ and ‘elos’ as I searched through various web sites. I was given a sense of greater head-knowledge. It is said that the longest journey is from the head to the heart. However, I will always be grateful to the Liturgy Office England & Wales who used The Grail translation of the Benedictus for the Morning Prayer of the Church. Unlike Mister Google who gave me ‘head knowledge’, the Ladies of the Grail Society gave me ‘heart knowledge’ when they translated Zachariah’s word ‘mercy’ in the Benedictus as: ‘the loving kindness of the heart of our God.’
In what ways can we make the loving kindness of the heart of our God a reality in our lives and share it with others?
John 20: 19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
The Gospel of the Lord