Thursday, January 1, 2015

Mercy: How God Loves

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus asks the scholar of the law, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” and the scholar replied “The one who treated him with mercy.”

The use of the word “mercy” here may seem puzzling. What mercy was due to the victim by the Samaritan whom he had never before met?

In Cardinal Walter Kasper's book Mercy The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, chapter 5 is entitled "Systematic Reflections" and discusses several ways in which mercy interrelates to other attributes and characteristics of God.

Cardinal Kasper makes the connection between how God is Love and what this means in terms of Mercy. He begins with how the inner life of the trinitarian God is one of love (Kasper 91). 

The expression of love outside of the Godhead to mankind is his mercy. That is, the way God loves is to give way kenotically to the other, to become less, making room for the other (93). We hear more of kenosis, or self-emptying, in Philippians 2:7, where Jesus "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance." It is the nature of love to empty oneself to make room for the lover.

The proper response to the love of God is to mirror this same self-emptying back to Him. John the Baptist expresses this in a similar way when he says "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30).

As we make room for Him, God is able to enter into us and we into Him (cf. John 15:4). This love is now a mutual indwelling and is His mercy because He is always with us. He walks with us in all our trials and suffering. He gives all of himself to us. 

In my experience, mercy had seemed to be a negative proposition. That is, mercy meant to not prosecute a wrong or to refrain from taking offense. Someone losing a fist fight and is taking a beating might cry "Mercy!" meaning "Stop!" or "Don't hit me!" He is pleading for the other person to not do something.

In Cardinal Kasper’s view, mercy is a positive assertion. Mercy is walking with another in his suffering. It is entering into a suffering that is not your own and giving comfort by virtue of your presence and sympathy (Kasper 119). In the example of the person losing the fight, his crying "Mercy!" could also then mean "Step into my shoes. I am hurt. Feel what I am feeling." It requires a radical transformation of the relationship. 

This is incredibly powerful. It is precisely the “mercy” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was the only one who entered into the suffering of the robbery victim: he lost money with the victim, he lost time, he allowed himself to walk with him without a prior claim or obligation. 

This mercy is a "love-in-action" reflective of how God loves because he is always with us.

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