Mercy is for Everyone!

The third thing that makes St. Luke's gospel the gospel of mercy in a special way is its emphasis on the universal scope of Divine Mercy: God intends to embrace all people with His mercy, through Jesus Christ. We have already seen this theme in the canticles in the first chapter of the gospel, especially in the "Benedictus" of Zechariah, where he sings a hymn of praise to the Lord who gives "light to those who dwell in darkness, and the shadow of death"-that is, to the Gentiles. We find the same theme in the "Nunc Dimittis" of old Simeon in chapter two. Simeon speaks of Christ as a light for everyone:

For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Thy people Israel.

The universality of Divine Mercy is a recurrent theme in St. Luke's gospel. In chapter three, for example, he quotes Isaiah 40:3-5 as a prophecy about the coming of John the Baptist ("the voice of one crying in the wilderness"), but unlike St. Matthew (who quotes the same prophecy), Luke quotes its final line: "And all flesh [that is, all humanity] shall see the salvation of God."

Saint Luke also traces his genealogy of Jesus in chapter three not just back to Abraham-the father of the Jewish nation according to the Bible - as St. Matthew had done, but all the way back to Adam, the father of all mankind. Luke ends his genealogy with the words, "the son of Adam, the son of God," thereby identifying God as Adam's father. In short, Luke seems to be saying that all descendents of Adam are children of God, and this is another sign that Jesus' saving mission is intended to be universal in scope.

Another way that St. Luke emphasizes this theme is by including in his gospel stories of how Jesus reached out to all kinds of people, of every gender, class, race, and moral character. In his essay "St. Luke, the Gospel of Mercy" (in Divine Mercy: The Heart of the Gospel, Marian Press, 1999, p. 25), Rick Torretto points out that if we confine ourselves to material unique to St. Luke's gospel, we can see that he deliberately included many stories about Jesus that stress this theme. We find:

1) The cure of the servant of a centurion, who was a military officer from the dreaded occupying army of Palestine.
2) A son is raised to life because he was the only son of a widow who would be left destitute without him.
3) A woman of questionable reputation who anoints Jesus.
4) Female disciples who travel with and supported Him in His ministry; women were considered second-class citizens in ancient Israel.
5) Jesus cures a demoniac: at the very least a psychologically challenged person!
6) He tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan; Samaritans were considered heretical, sectarian half-breeds.
7) In another parable, Lazarus, a homeless, poor, sick individual, is welcomed into Abraham's bosom in heaven.
8) Jesus touches and cures lepers: medical, social, and religious outcasts.
9) In another parable, a Pharisee is criticized, while a Publican (a tax collector and collaborator with the Roman occupation) is praised for his faith and humility-so, "politically correct" ideas are turned upside-down!
10) Jesus dines with the tax collector Zacchaeus.
11) He even asks forgiveness for those who crucify Him.

Torretto concludes:

Each of these people is a complete outsider either socially or religiously. The Kingdom of God, Divine Mercy, is freely given to each as a gift. The only thing that stops them from accepting the gift of God is their own refusal to repent and seek forgiveness ...

Lest we miss the point, Luke reiterates this in his summary of Jesus' fulfilment of His mission, and His final commissioning of His disciples, and this material is unique to Luke [24: 46-47 ]:

Jesus said to them: "So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning with Jerusalem" [cf. Mt 28:18-20].

Here we see a theme that will later find an echo in the Diary of St. Faustina (entry 1182). Jesus said to her:

Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My mercy, because I want to save them all. On the cross, the fountain of My Mercy was opened wide by the lance for all souls - no one have I excluded!

This series continues next week on the subject: Divine Mercy in the New Testament.

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If our definition of Divine Mercy is accurate, then it has to fit not only with the meaning of the Biblical terms for mercy, such as "hesed," "rachamim," and "eleos," but also with the whole story of God's dealings with His chosen people Israel, and with all that He has revealed to us through Jesus Christ. As the Catholic biblical scholar John L. Mackenzie claimed: "the entire history of the dealings of Yahweh with Israel can be summed up as 'hesed'."

Divine Mercy is an attribute of God

Mercy presents us with a semantic problem. After all, the word mercy in contemporary English has a very restricted meaning. It is usually used to refer to an act of pardon, as in "Let me off, judge; have mercy" or "He threw himself on the mercy of the court." In the Catholic tradition of theology, however, mercy means far more than just the cancellation of punishment. Far more then that.