The Gospel admonition we hear today in the Gospel of St. Luke is “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” It is a rather strong statement. Is it an order or command? Are we being compelled to be merciful?
In Act IV of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the character of Portia delivers an eloquent speech about being compelled to be merciful:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
So according to Shakespeare, one should not feel compelled to be merciful; one should be merciful because it is a blessing to be so. Shakespeare goes on to say something that tells us about God’s mercy: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest.
Consequently, it would seem that Shakespeare and God agree. God is merciful because God is mighty. Mercy is a defining characteristic of who God is.
Where does that leave us? We are definitely not mighty. We are weak and small. So Jesus adds something to the admonition that helps us understand the mercy that is asked of us. Mercy will be measured out to us as we have measured it out to others. So human mercy is not about strength, it is about need. The more we need God’s mercy, the more merciful we should be. During Lent we examine our lives to see what needs to be changed. Obviously, it would be good for us to remember how much we need God’s mercy when asking ourselves how merciful and understanding we should be.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator