Mercy is at the core of Christ’s teaching in the Scripture; it was mercy that moved Him to leave His exalted position in heaven to come into the world and took the form of a human person just to save us all from eternal damnation. Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount usually regarded as Beatitudes, proclaimed: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”(Matt 5:7). The Good News Bible translated it thus: “Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them”. But why is mercy at the core of Christ’s teaching? Simply because of Christ’s love for human persons, in other words He wants us all to be saved; for He said: “I came that they may have life and have it in full” (Jn 10:10). This suggests that mercy is closely connected with love; in fact, mercy adds two outstanding qualities to love. First of all, mercy involves forgiveness; for God shows us mercy after we sinned against Him, He needed to forgive us our sins. Secondly, mercy adds compassion to love. In the Scripture, we saw many examples of compassion shown by Jesus Christ. Jesus was filled with compassion when He saw the large crowd who were like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34). Not only that He felt compassion, Jesus went further to multiply loaves of bread and fishes for He was concerned that the crowd who had been with Him for so long might collapse on their way home. Jesus was equally compassionate in His mercy towards sinners, in His healing of the sick, and in His raising of the dead. Thus, mercy pushes us to better the living conditions of our neighbours.
In the Gospel, we see that mercy, for Christ, has no limit; it goes beyond what the law stipulates. For instance, Matthew 12:1-14 presents us with a face-off between Jesus and the Pharisees with regard to keeping the Law of the Sabbath. The Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of contravening the Law of the Sabbath by healing a man with withered hand and picking the ears of corn and eating them on the Sabbath day respectively. To show the Pharisees that mercy is limitless, Jesus retorted, “what I want is mercy, not sacrifice.’… for the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mtt 12:7-8).In Lk 10:25-37, we read about the parable of the Good Samaritan where robbers attacked one man moving from Jerusalem to Jericho and left him half dead. A priest and a Levite all saw the man and walked on by; but when a Samaritan saw the man he was moved with mercy and he took the man to the hospital in order to save his life. Most probably, the priest and the Levite refused to take care of this man because they are going to offer sacrifice and the law forbids them from having contact with the blood before offering sacrifice. Unfortunately, both of them who want to fulfill the stipulations of the law were not justified by God, while the Samaritan became the justified one. The two passages point out that compliance with the law cannot deliver mercy, mercy goes beyond the law; one does not become righteous by fulfilling the law but by doing the work of mercy. This implies that to inherit the kingdom of God, one must go beyond the law and become an instrument of mercy (cff The Final Judgment Matt 25:31-46).
All of us live in a society with its own laws, and more still a greater number of us belong to the churches and religious congregations with laws regulating the behaviors of their members. We know quite well that laws bring about order, peace, harmony, progress, etc. in the society. But the question is, how do we apply these laws? Assuming one murders someone in our society, take the case of Boko haram, kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual killings etc. in Nigeria, and the law states that anybody who kills another person willfully will be equally killed. When a person becomes a culprit with regard to this law, justice for us will be to kill the person as well. Justice, in this case, becomes giving each person what he/she deserves. Nevertheless, is this the kind of justice Christ taught us? We acknowledge the fact that it is very difficult to let go the one who willfully murdered our beloved one(s) without letting the law to take its cause. Usually we follow any means within our reach in order to get justice done. But let us consider the case of Pope John Paul II who was shot several times in 1981 by Mehmet Ali A?ca. Italian High court had already sentenced Ali for life imprisonment following Italian laws. For some, justice in this case would be to hand Ali death sentence for attempting to murder The Vicar of Christ.
But what kind of Justice did the Pope demand? Forgiveness, mercy, and love which is contrary to our idea of justice. The man whom people expected to be killed or at least be sentenced to life imprisonment became a free man having been pardoned by the Pope. Similarly, Saul was a well-known terrorist to Christian faithful; in short he was Christians’ enemy and an anti-Christ. Saul approved the martyrdom of St Stephen and persecuted many Christians who, as a result, scattered everywhere but kept preaching the message of Christ (cff Acts 7:54-60). How did St Stephen and the early Christians seek for justice? Stephen prayed for God’s forgiveness, mercy and conversion of Saul and all the Jews who stoned him to death, while the Christians kept preaching God’s love. If we were in the shoes of St Stephen and the early Christians, perhaps we would have sought for justice by calling on Holy Ghost fire to destroy, cast, and bind Saul and the Jews. Instead, they sought the kind of justice God wants of us: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44).Assuming St Stephen and the early Christians destroyed Saul and the Jews with the Holy Ghost fire, how would Christianity spread all over the world? How would we have the thirteen letters of St Paul today? These indicate that justice requires mercy which flows from compassion and love; this is to say that justice that lacks mercy is not justice at all, but a sheer wickedness and malice. Accordingly, any law that does not give room for mercy is anti-Christ and satanic.
Having known that justice/law necessitates mercy, it is our duty as human beings, Christians, the Church, and as Religious Congregations to re-examine our concept of justice and consider how we apply our laws. However, we are not claiming that we should do away with laws for we acknowledged earlier the importance of laws in a society and organizations. Rather we are stressing that laws should be applied with mercy; that is, law should be governed by mercy. Without mercy, therefore, law becomes barbaric and brutal. Since we received mercy from God, we should extend the same mercy to others knowing that “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”. This calls us to be agents of mercy as Pope Francis said in his Easter message: “let us become agents of God’s mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish”.
BY UMEOKOLI VINCENT ONYEBUCHI, SAC