Third Sunday after Pentecost: The Meaning of Mercy

Read: Romans 5:1-10. What does mercy really mean. God reveals himself as mercy. When Moses asks to see God, God responds: “The Lord came down in a cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name, “Lord.” So the Lord passed before him and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity.”

Read Exodus 34:5-6. Of course, one might point out (in verse 7) that he also punishes the wicked. Yet the overwhelming image of God is that found in Psalm 102: “The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. His wrath will come to an end; he will not be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.” Yet people sometimes don’t want free grace. Mercy, they say, is okay, but only to those who show repentance. And so atonement becomes a condition for mercy. This, however, doesn’t seem to be the way St. Paul describes it in this Sunday’s Epistle. He says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we are to be imitators of God (Matthew 5:47), mercy and repentance must be for us two different realities. Our vocation is simply to show mercy, as Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).  Mercy is without conditions. Mercy, compassion, love and forgiveness are how Christians live. 

The need for repentance is on the part of the ones who are shown mercy. They can either accept it or refuse it, and mercy cannot achieve its fulfillment unless the one receiving it is willing to accept it. This is not for us to decide, but we are in the number of those who receive God’s mercy, and we receive it only when we do not harden our hearts, but love the other as God has loved us.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras