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Abbot Peter NovokoskyA Gospel of mercy

Pope Francis has inaugurated the Year of Mercy. Liturgically, this year the Gospel of Luke is read on Sundays.

As a matter of curiosity, I Googled to see how often the Gospel writers use the word mercy: Matthew, 10 times; Mark, three times; and Luke, 10 times.

Surprisingly the word mercy does not appear in John’s Gospel. But the word “grace” appears three times in Ch. 1. John uses a number of similar expressions to describe God’s relationship with us.

Going back to Luke, the first five uses of the word “mercy” occur in his first chapter where he describes the circumstances of the birth of Jesus. They first two occur in Mary’s Magnificat, a summary of God’s goodness and fidelity to his covenant.

“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (1:49-50).

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever” (1:54-55)

The next three reference Elizabeth and Zechariah, whom Mary visited, and whose son John prepared the people for Jesus. “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her (she had been barren), and they rejoiced with her” (1:57-58).

When Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, had his tongue loosened at the naming of his son John, Zechariah exclaimed: “Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant. . .” (1:72).

Then he prophesied that John would prepare the way for Jesus, who will be light in the darkness. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us. . .” (1:78).

It is not surprising that Jesus uses the word mercy in his public ministry. What is surprising is that he doesn’t use it more.

The first instance is the parable of the Good Samaritan. To Jesus’ query about who was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers, the lawyer responded: “The one who showed him mercy” (10:37).

The next instance is in the mouth of the rich man who never noticed the lot of his unfortunate neighbour, Lazarus. After both died, the rich man saw the good fortune of his neighbour in the distance and begged: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames” (16:24). Alas, this was not possible because of the great chasm separating them.

In Luke’s next chapter, Jesus meets 10 lepers who recognize Jesus as a compassionate healer and plea, “’Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (17:13). Their request was granted and they received a new life.

The final two times Luke quotes someone asking for mercy involves a blind man near Jericho. In his desperation, he cries out, twice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (18:38-39). Jesus granted his request.

Luke’s Gospel can provide a useful springboard to reflect on God’s goodness during this Year of Mercy.