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Simon, Mercy and the Big Picture

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By Joley Billa (Apr 5, 2007)
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:31).

Those words shook me when I heard them at Mass on Palm Sunday. Tears welled up in my eyes. No matter how many times I had read that particular passage, I failed to notice the when.

This Sunday I heard it.

"...And when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."

I always got the part of the story in which Jesus foresaw that Simon would fall. But I missed that part that Jesus was telling Simon that He knew Simon would repent.

The calm assurance in Jesus' tone suddenly struck me. After all, Jesus spoke these words right after an argument had broke out among His followers about which of them would be regarded as the "greatest" (Lk 22:25).

Jesus had spent three long, grueling years teaching 12 men all the mysteries of the Father and the Kingdom. He had personally shown them His plan of Salvation. He knew He was about to undergo an horrific agony and death. He knew that when His Passion was complete, He would return to Heaven, and the Father would leave the fate of the Church in the hands of these same 12 apostles. If I were Jesus and I saw them arguing about which one of them was the "greatest," I would feel like losing it!

I will never understand the perfect love Jesus showed in that stress-filled moment. He was about to DIE. His mission was nearly completed, and there was no more time to start over, which, by the way, is what I would have felt like doing. Just stall the Father and pick new worthier men and begin the three-year CCD course all over again.

Any CEO of a company could relate to the frustration Jesus must have felt. Every single moment He spent on earth, and every single drop of blood He shed, was done to establish the Kingdom of God, and yet, here at the eleventh hour, those who would be on the Board of Directors were being petty, selfish and childish.

Who could blame Jesus for being frustrated? After all, any reader of this story would understand that He was placing His most holy treasure, the future Church, into the hands of these weak human creatures who, so far, had only demonstrated that the BIG PICTURE was way too big for them to understand.

This is Christ's Pearl of Great Price. This mission is so vital to all of mankind and has literally cost Jesus everything. Any mortal man would simply have walked away.

And yet, Jesus lovingly and with holy fraternity speaks kindly and confidently to them with these words: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves" (Lk 22: 25-26).

Jesus understood all that would happen in the future. He knew that in a very short amount of time everyone of His friends except John and His mother would run away. He knew Judas had already sold Him out. He heard those bitter words before they fell from the lips of Simon that, "I do not know the man" (Mt 26:72).

He foresaw the wicked whips that would lance Him open and the crown that would very soon be shoved down into His skull. He could feel the cold night air as it blew across His bloodied body and the humiliation that He must endure being drug through the streets and out of the town, just one more common criminal getting what we deserved. And yet even knowing that Simon didn't hear it or understand it, He told him anyway so that after the bitter self-incriminations began, Simon would remember and not despair in his grief.

Jesus sent the mercy ahead of the sin so that as soon as that sin drove Simon's face down into the earth with regret and shame, he could find the mercy already waiting for him there.

Jesus told Simon the when because He wanted Simon to remember the mercy and not the sin. Sin makes us powerless. Mercy makes us powerful. And as Jesus explained beforehand, that power makes us servants. Being forgiven should compel us to forgive.

This Holy week is a time to meditate on the virtue of mercy, both God's great mercy toward us and our need for mercy to others.

Joley Billa is a lay evangelist for Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy.

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