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Yes, The Name of God is Mercy

January 15, 2016

This week I read Pope Francis’ new book The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016), in which he reminds us that God is 51zqYF24+iL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_“rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), for that’s God’s name. Aspects of our current national and even international mood (whether in the church, in society, or in political debates) seem anything but merciful—harsh, anxious, divisive, name-calling, fear-mongering—but not merciful. Thus, the Pope’s reminder is urgent.

We walk with the God who is “merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). This verse uses the two great Hebrew words for mercy. The first word, “merciful,” bears the same Hebrew root as the word “womb.” The relationship is striking. Like a womb, to be merciful is to create a safe place in which life can be nourished. As the Psalmist continually reminds us, God is our strong tower, our defense, the One who stoops down and rescues us from the pit. Also like a womb, mercy involves sacrifice, hospitality, discomfort, and even risk. Jesus stooped down and took the risk, so to speak, of bearing our wounded human flesh. He carried it into his own “womb of mercy” where it could be healed, redeemed, and recreated. His cries on the Cross were like labor pains, and in the resurrection, he gave birth to new humanity.

The second word in Exodus 34 is translated as “steadfast love and faithfulness.” This is the great Hebrew word, hesed, one of the most common words in the Hebrew Bible to describe God. God is steadfastly faithful to God’s commitment to love creation. Hesed is the word translated in Micah 6:8 as mercy or kindness. What does God require of us—“to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” God calls us to participate in God’s unconditional, relentless, unwavering, steadfast determination to heal the wounds of humanity in God’s love. When we walk the way of justice, mercy, and humility, we courageously participate in God’s work to create safe places in which people’s lives can be made right by mercy.

In this book, the Pope describes the basis of his call for A Year of Mercy and a A Revolution of Tenderness.

“God forgives not with a decree but with a caress” for “Jesus goes beyond the law and forgives by caressing the wounds of our sins.”

Only the person “who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with the mercy of Jesus takes place is my sin. When you feel his merciful embrace…that’s when life can change.”

 He laments for the person who doesn’t feel their own need for mercy. Francis calls this the fruit of a tragic form of corruption in which,

“We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy…The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help…The corrupt man often doesn’t realize his own condition, much as a person with bad breath does not know they have it.”

He notes that it usually takes for such people a great fall to,

“crack open the shell that he has gradually built up, thus allowing the Grace of God to enter.”

“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called on to pour its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy. I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the church and its parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.”

In our Micah Groups, the Spirit is at work to deepen our transformation in the womb of God’s mercy so that we can lead the Church in this great “revolution of tenderness.” All around the world there are 1,000s of daily acts of kindness in this revolution of tenderness. Our world hungers to experience the caress of mercy and justice.

As we commemorate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week, Bill Haley, one of our Micah Group facilitators in Washington, DC provides a wonderful example of just mercy. His ministry, Coracle, has been engaged in clearing an unmarked grave of former slaves in the Shenandoah Valley. They refer to their word at the Corhaven Slave Cemetery as a RepentL1050152M-copy2ance Project. Before beginning the work clearing the brush from hundreds of unmarked graves, they took off their shoes and joined hands in prayer. In the mud and brambles beneath them, they realized they were standing on holy ground. As a gentle rain began to fall on them, Bill’s 10-year-old daughter named what they were all feeling, “God’s crying.” Bill reminds us of the words of Dr. King, “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

I needn’t end by asking, “May God have mercy on us,” for that’s God’s name. It would be like saying, “May God be God.” God can’t be other than that. Therefore I end, in the name of the God who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.

 

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