Love is mercy put into action

By Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

12/21/2015

One of the classes I had to take for my Masters degree in theology was an Old Testament class. For one of the papers we were tasked with picking some aspect of God and mining the text for information about this particular characteristic. By “mine the text” the professor meant that we were to use only the Scriptures to write the paper, no commentaries or books by other people who investigated a similar focus. We were charged to dig around in the books, chapters, and verses for nuggets that exemplified our topic. The subject I went digging for was the mercy of God. 

The word mercy occurs 172 times in the Old Testament of the New American Bible in 30 books from Genesis to Malachi. When I was writing my paper I looked up all 172 verses in the New American Bible. I then compared those to the same verses in the New Jerusalem Bible. Since the New American Bible is a word for word translation and the New Jerusalem Bible is a meaning for meaning translation, some interesting insights were gained, and this proved to be instrumental in discovering the richness of the mercy of God. For often when the New American Bible uses the word mercy, the New Jerusalem Bible uses another word or phrase to express the same thing. The main expressions found in the New Jerusalem in place of mercy are: faithful love, pity, compassion, covenant, and a few times saving acts and grace are used.

In my paper I used many of the 172 verses as examples of each of these alternatives for the word mercy and gained some insight in to this major aspect of God. I discovered that the key elements of God’s mercy are compassion, pity, grace, and tenderness. His mercy is great and boundless and it is faithful love that endures. I boiled all the verses down to this definition of the mercy of God as found in the Old Testament Scriptures: God’s loving involvement with his people in an immeasurable, gentle way that can be depended upon, always.

This definition, as wonderful as it is, does not even take into account the New Testament displays of God’s mercy, namely the immeasurable gift of the sending, of his Son. God sends Jesus to the earth to free us from the slavery of sin and to offer us salvation, redemption, hope, healing, friendship, compassion, and above all a perfect display of his faithful love.

Love is mercy put into action, and this is exactly what the Father does. For God, love is not just a nice idea, or fodder for a pretty song, or an emotion shared between people. Rather it is a verb. Throughout biblical and Church history we see God’s love put into action. Whether it is in the rescue of his people from slavery in Egypt, through the prophets, through the gift of his Son, through the sending of the Holy Spirit, through the actions of the early Church, and down through the centuries through the teachings of the Church, the Saints, and extending to the clergy and the faithful in the pews, God’s love has been radically on display in a myriad of ways.

Pope Francis in this Jubilee Year of Mercy is calling on all of us to continue this display of mercy. The theme for the Year of Mercy is “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). And in choosing this verse about mercy, out of all the possible verses, Pope Francis is calling us to BE mercy, to BE like the Father.

To be sure this is going to take different forms for all of us, all depending on where we are in life. Sometimes all the mercy we can muster is to take care of our cats and our children and sometimes we can buy a stranger a cup of coffee — and sometimes we can do a whole lot more.
So, as we bask in the glow of THE act of mercy during the wonder of the Christmas season, let us find a way to do our own act(s) of mercy as the year unfolds. 

 

One of the classes I had to take for my Masters degree in theology was an Old Testament class. For one of the papers we were tasked with picking some aspect of God and mining the text for information about this particular characteristic. By “mine the text” the professor meant that we were to use only the Scriptures to write the paper, no commentaries or books by other people who investigated a similar focus. We were charged to dig around in the books, chapters, and verses for nuggets that exemplified our topic. The subject I went digging for was the mercy of God. 

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