God’s mercy for all creation

30 October, 2022 31st Sunday Year, Year C

Today’s readings focus on the theme of “mercy”. The author of the Wisdom of Solomon reflects on the expansive nature of God’s mercy, which is extended to all creation. The Psalmist sings of the divine being’s graciousness and compassion: “slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Ps 145:8).

Paul strikes an eschatological note in writing to the Thessalonians of the end time when God will “make you worthy of his calling … [through] the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ” (2 Thes 1:11-12). And, finally, Luke tells the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, who finds mercy and forgiveness after encountering Jesus.

Each of these readings explores various aspects of the biblical concept of mercy. In the Wisdom traditions of the Old Testament, mercy manifests in the saving acts of YHWH, beginning with a view of the creation as a revelation of divine love and compassion. The author of the today’s first reading tells us that we can take heart from looking at how God lavishes abundance upon the created order. He reassures his readers that YHWH is a “lover of souls” who “loathes nothing” that he has made and will only gently rebuke the sinner to draw them back into relationship with him.

The gospel story provides a narrative account of such a gentle rebuke, as Jesus’ calm presence visits the house of Zacchaeus and engenders in the tax collector genuine repentance and remorse. The story represents the fulfilment of themes explored first in the Song of Zechariah in Luke’s nativity narratives, where the father of John the Baptist sings that the “tender mercy of God will visit us, like daylight breaking from on high” (Lk 1:78).

The biblical concept of mercy is tied to the motif of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. The Psalmist says that God has proven “trustworthy in all his words … fulfilling the desires of all who revere him”. (Ps 145:13, 19) Paul intimates that we have nothing to fear about our future because God has called us into a relationship that will ultimately “bring to fulfilment every good purpose and every effort of faith” (1 Thes 1:11).

However, with God mercy is never simply faithfulness; God’s mercy exceeds the covenant obligation. Israel had long since forfeited any claim on YHWH, but still God showed mercy in visiting and redeeming his people (Lk 1:68). God’s compassion is made concrete in the healing and forgiveness brought by Jesus.

In the biblical record, God’s mercy and compassion precedes repentance. We are not required to repent first before God lavishes love and mercy upon us. Rather, it is the realisation of God’s compassionate presence in our lives that calls forth our repentance.

Ian J Elmer

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