Gospel Reflection for Feb. 20, 2022, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we continue with the Sermon on the Plain as recounted in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples with guides to practical mercy. So often the sense of mercy is hard for us to grasp. We know that we receive forgiveness for our sins in the Sacrament of Confession, and there we experience in a significant way God’s mercy. We know that we are to exercise mercy in our own lives and most of the time we equate that solely with forgiving others when they have offended or hurt us. But mercy goes well beyond forgiveness.

The First Reading draws attention to David and his refusal to have his men kill King Saul in his sleep. Besides being an act of cowardice David recognizes and respects the authority of God’s anointed one, the king. So, while David exercises an act of mercy, it is self-serving and calculated. His actions in favor of the king do not stem from a sense of mercy, justice or love, but of self-preservation. Yet, in a simple way he has a lesson to teach us. We do not raise a hand against our enemies.

Jesus calls us first to exercise mercy to our enemies. Yet, we have to understand what Jesus means by mercy. Firstly, mercy doesn’t stand on its own. It is always accompanied with the demand for justice. While on the surface these might seem to be values that are often in conflict with one another, that is not really the case. While there is a necessary tension between the two, they essentially complement one another. Either justice or mercy on its own is incomplete. This is certainly seen through the Mosaic Laws and understood as well in the teaching of Jesus. However, Jesus adds another dimension to the conversation which clearly binds mercy and justice together. Jesus emphasizes the demand of love to stand at the very core of mercy and justice.

On the surface it looks like the Mosaic Law draws a focus on reciprocal relationships. And certainly a sense of relationship is necessary in exacting mercy. But first we must consider what constitutes a relationship. Clearly, we have those natural relationships which form the basis of our family and our clan. For the Jewish people this included their respective tribe and then also all of their fellow Jews. On a basic level this makes sense. In order to be a member of any group we need to conform to the rules of the group and participate in the life of that group. Even still within families, clans and broader communities a certain degree of tension will always exist. Everyone, it seems, has enemies. Some of this animosity is borne of jealousy. But very often such hatred comes from conflict and hurt – be it real or perceived. Many of us still carry deep wounds and hurts afflicted upon us by our closest relatives and past friends. Many of us also are the ones who have breached relationships with others inflicted pain on those with whom we had some conflict.

Jesus also expands the field of those to whom we owe mercy, justice and love. While the Mosaic Law emphasized the relationship between kinsmen, fellow Israelites and resident aliens, Jesus takes this sense of neighbor and expands it to a universal level. This sense builds upon the teaching of Jesus that all men and women are children of God, and that all of us, both Jew and Gentile, share in the kingdom that God has prepared for us.

Therefore, it is not enough to be merciful to those from whom we would expect mercy. In a sense that makes expressing mercy, not so much easy, but certainly easier. Jesus demands that our expression of mercy, our exacting of justice, both borne from a universal love grounded in God, is unlimited.

To emphasize his point Jesus reiterates some of the laws given through Moses but moves it beyond the traditionally accepted application of the law.

Throughout this sermon, as Jesus challenges traditional approaches to mercy he repeats the expression: “what credit is that to you?” if we only are merciful, just, and loving in those relationships where we know we will merit mercy, justice, and love, then we have not moved beyond basic humanity. Jesus tells us that sinners do that as well. Modern science has shown that even in some social functioning animal species even they do the same.

Jesus calls us to radical mercy, justice and love. We express these great virtues – which really could be one virtue – when we extend this to those who could or would never imagine expressing them to us. We give not to be recognized or to receive back, but because all we have and are is from God and belongs to him. Each one of us has received untold mercy, justice, and love from God in our own lives, and we can never pay that back, we can only hope to pay it forward.

What Jesus calls us to is a life of mercy, and justice, grounded in love that reflects, not only God’s love and mercy for us, but also draws us deeper into self-sacrifice and carrying our cross.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.