Mercy and Knowledge

19th Sunday After Pentecost

2 Cor 11:31-12:9
Luke 6:31-36

In the Beatitudes, our Lord tells us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. And here, he says “Be merciful, just as the Father is merciful”.

So, let’s look at it. How is the Father merciful? Often, when people talk about God in the Old Testament, the response is that he was a cruel God. A common example given is this command given in 1 Samuel. “Now go and smite Am′alek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’”

As one Christian apologist puts it, “The Amalekites were not nice people. In fact, they were utterly and totally depraved. Their mission was to destroy Israel. In other words, to commit genocide… The destruction of their nation was necessitated by the gravity of their sin. Had some hardcore remnant survived, they might have resumed their aggression against the Israelites and God's plan”.

What was God’s plan? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”.

The Old Testament book of Esther shows the results of Israel not following the command to destroy the Amalekites. Many years after that command, at time when much of the Middle East, including Israel, was part of the Persian Empire, a new principle minister to the Persian King was appointed. He was Haman, a descendant of an Amalekite King.

When a Jewish man, Mordechai, refused to bow low to worship him, Haman convinced the King to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire killed. Fortunately, the queen was Mordechai’s niece, and she talked him out of it.

Think about this, though. If Haman’s plot had been successful, Jesus would not have been born. God’s plan would have been thwarted. Salvation, as Christ tells us, comes from the Jew.

In the Old Testament, God’s focus, ultimately, is to bring about the fruition of His plan. When Adam and Eve sinned, He revealed that there was a plan for their redemption. With the Flood, He cleansed creation of evil and violence, while still allowing salvation to all who listen to Him. Only eight people responded. Then, little by little, first with Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob, He gradually revealed that the plan would be revealed through the Jews.

Just as God’s focus was the fulfillment of his plan, Satan focused on thwarting it. That focus is revealed when he tempted Eve to eat the fruit. It was revealed in the evil and violence that was the cause of the Flood. It was revealed when Pharoah ordered the death of all Hebrew boys under the age of two.

And that conflict continues until today.

In his Epistle to the Romans, Paul tells us that Israel will be reconciled with the Messiah before He returns. Don’t you think that the Holocaust was Satan trying to thwart that?

Yes, God’s mercy is shown in the sunshine, in providing light and life to us, and so forth. The corporal works of mercy are a reflection of those parts of this.

His focus on his plan, His love for mankind’s deliverance from slavery to sin - these are reflected in the Spiritual Works of Mercy. And we are called to be merciful, as our Father is merciful.

How do the Spiritual Acts of Mercy reflect this?

When we admonish the sinner, we point them in the direction of God’s forgiveness. The same can be said when we instruct the ignorant and counsel the doubtful. St Peter tells us to always be ready to give a defense of the hope that is in us.

The thing is, this exercise of mercy often requires knowledge. Now, God is all-knowing, but we’re not. That’s why Paul says, “Study to show yourself approved”.

What to study? Scripture and the Catechism is the core of it. But don’t study these like you would study them academically. Study them prayerfully. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and heart to what you should learn.

And, sometimes, it’s not so much deep study of these, but rather the learning, the knowledge, that comes from prayer, from Christian meditation. We believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, but have you ever just prayerfully thought about what that really means? Have you meditated on the meaning when we pray in the Creed that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father?

Two woman Doctors of the Church, Catherine of Siena and Therese of Lisieux, were not academics. They were simple women, but through their prayer lives, they learned deep spiritual truth. 

And mercy doesn’t have to be nice, at least on the surface. Think of a parent grabbing their child who’s about to run out in traffic. That child will likely be scolded, and the child will be mad at the parent. But the parent is acting out of loving mercy.

In the same way, harshness might be necessary when rescuing someone from a sinful situation. But we must act in love and mercy, seeking the best for them.

My brothers and sisters, be merciful if you expect to receive God’s mercy.

Be merciful as the Father is merciful