Christmas V – Baptism of Our Lord
2019 – Cycle C
Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11; Psalm 104; Titus 2:11-14, 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.
“In the beginning God created…and the spirit breathed over the waters of chaos”.
And when through disobedience humanity was expelled from paradise, God himself made garments and clothed Adam and Eve. What a wonderful image! God as seamstress and mom and dad.
When Cain murdered his brother Abel, God placed a mark on Cain’s forehead in order to protect him from ever being murdered.
In Noah, God attempted a new beginning.
And when the foolish pride of humanity tried to build a tower to the heavens in Babel, leading to the alienation of people from each other, God did not abandon humanity but countered by attempting a new beginning in Abraham.
When Jacob and his mother choose to deceive his father Isaac and steal his brother’s birthright, God chose blessings for his twelve sons.
At each turn, God counters our moves toward ruin and failure.
God sidesteps our pride and sin by creating new spaces for life and blessings.
At each opening, God is always drawing near his people.
This is what is meant when we speak of God’s mercy. Mercy is God’s free and gracious turning toward us with care. It is unexpected and undeserved.
The Hebrew word translated as “mercy” means “womb”. And a womb has only one purpose – to provide a space to bring forth new life. And how often in the bible is this space not provided unexpectedly? Consider Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary. Women who are either beyond child bearing years or a virgin. And in each situation, God is the source of life within each woman. Mercy as “womb love”.
Ask yourself, do you desire justice or mercy?
The two are not the same. As God reminds us through the prophet Hosea, “For I am God and not human…” [Hosea 11:9]
Here is found the difference in our understanding of mercy as clemency or pardon, or even at times, forgiveness. Does not a person who is granted clemency by a state official still not suffer the continuing punishment of a criminal record, the inability to vote, and the stigma and shame? Does our offer of forgiveness truly embrace a clean slate for the other person? It is not easy to scrub the memory clean, is it? Neither of these examples are God’s sense of mercy. The true essence of God is revealed not in power, justice or even transcendence. God’s being is most revealed in God’s mercy, womb – love. In mercy, God shows himself to be moved in a seemingly human way and yet is also revealed as being completely other than us.
The difference? In mercy, God tempers justice. God does this in order to provide us the opportunity for conversion, creating a new space for life and blessings. Divine mercy grants the sinner, that’s you and me lest we forget, an opportunity to turn from our sin and embrace a deeper relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
Mercy is ultimately about a opportunity for a change of heart. But the message of mercy is not a message of cheap grace. God expects us to do what is right and just. Thus mercy and justice are not in opposition to each other. Only that justice is the minimum of mercy and mercy, this new space for life, is the pathway to holiness and holiness must resist evil.
As so on this final day of the Christmas feast we hear Paul write to the early Christian leader, Titus, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all…not because of any righteous deeds we have done but because of God’s mercy…”, womb – love.
Jesus is the space God has created for new life and blessings. Jesus is womb – love in the flesh.
Ideas and phrases taken from Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Kasper, Paulist Press, New York, 2013.