Year of Mercy: The Foundation

(10) The life and ministry of the Church stands on the foundation of mercy.  The witness of the Church rises and falls in relation to the presence or absence of mercy.  Pope Francis believes the Church has forgotten this and must be reawakened to it.

As the showing of mercy wanes in the world today, the Church is particularly called by God to be a mercy-giving institution.  This does not eliminate the need for justice, but it means that justice is not the first motive, the first move, or the first ministry of the Body of Christ–mercy is.  God’s ‘hesed’ is the igniting inclination.

Forgetting this, justice becomes retributive rather than restorative.  The focus is on what the offender must do to in order to be forgiven. With mercy as the foundation, justice is restorative and the focus is on the Church in its initiative to forgive even before a person asks to be forgiven–just as God showed love to us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

Mercy is the manifestation of grace–not “cheap grace” (because of what Jesus has done for us), but ‘free’ grace which is offered irrespective of who the the person is or what they have done.  Mercy is offering to others what we ourselves have received.

Is this counter-cultural?  In a retributive-justice (quid pro quo) world, you better believe it is!  But as Pope Francis, makes clear–this is the Church’s calling, and it is in showing mercy where the Church distinguishes itself from an inquisition-oriented, meritocracy-based world.

This points to the redemptive mission of the Church.  As Pope Francis writes, “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”  People can only hear and respond to the Gospel when it is offered them through the spirit of mercy.  When offered as a “turn or burn” requirement, they will turn–not away from God, but rather away from a Church that no longer knows how to love.

Pope Francis is determined to return the Church (remember he is writing to all Christians, not just those in the Roman Church) to its foundation–the foundation of mercy.  His pontifical bull is his invitation for us to join with him in the effort.

[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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