Year of Mercy: Recipients of Mercy

Pope Francis’ next reference to the psalms is a combination of 146:7-9 and 147:3-6.  These two passages answer the question, “To whom is mercy shown?”

A look at the Bible as-a-whole clearly reveals that the ultimate answer to the question is, “Everyone.”  God’s mercy is extended everywhere, to all, and in every age.  As John 3:16 puts it, God loves the world.

But within that larger reality, the Bible often narrows the view.  The two psalm texts are examples of that, putting the focus on selected people: the oppressed, the starving, prisoners, the blind, those who are bent low, immigrants, orphans, widows, the brokenhearted, and the poor.  Why the narrowing?

For one thing, so that generalities can be made specific.  It is not sufficient to say, “I love everyone.”  Too easily this can become truth without virtue–affirmation without application.  Mercy must always,be expressed to actual people, not just to “humanity.”

For another thing, the field of vision focuses on those who are often either overlooked or caricatured. The people named in the psalm texts are those who are often not in our customary frame of reference.  The Bible does not allow us to show mercy only to those who are like us or only to the folks we usually associate with. 

The call to be merciful includes the willingness to show it to those who are too easily bypassed.  The world takes care of its own.  We are called to care for those whom the world forgets, marginalizes and excludes.  We are called to see those whom the world fails to see and to hear those whom the world no longer listens to.

So, Pope Francis used passages like these two psalms to remind us, and to challenge us, to show mercy to all–to the whole world, whom God loves.  As John Wesley expressed it, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”  From such a vision mercy flows.

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.
This entry was posted in Year of Mercy. Bookmark the permalink.