I am not sure I fully understood the healing potential of mercy until I became a parent. It turns out, kids mess up. Oftentimes, the big feelings inside little people get expressed in ways that are hurtful to others. On the other side of those instances, I have noticed that the temptation for me in the dad role is to teach a lesson and hold a hard line. Boundaries are good, but the problem is that I often forget that tenderness and mercy in moments like those can have a transformative power to help kids experience who God is, heal the brokenness underneath big feelings, and foster the peace that they and we are seeking. And when I dig a little further, I recognize that opportunities to extend tenderness and mercy are all around, every day: at work, with family, with friends, in my neighborhood. So the challenges in today’s Gospel feel more than relevant.
The idea of God’s mercy always yanks me out of my own small ways of thinking, which have been shaped by a culture that tells me to judge, measure, and keep score in my relationships with loved ones, co-workers, and neighbors. God’s mercy doesn’t compute in our transactional world; it defies the logic of our dualistic, ingrained ways of reward and punishment. We are a people addicted to being right and righteous, so mercy feels like losing. Yet Jesus calls us toward mercy throughout the Gospels, models it for us, and shows us how it is the path toward reconciliation and justice. In other words, it is a key ingredient in the radical hope that we pray for this Lent. Though it can feel like mercy is in short supply in today’s world, we do possess the ability to cultivate it. It is a choice we face daily. The more we choose this kind of tenderness and compassion, the more readily available it becomes in those future moments when we are tempted to harden our hearts amidst interpersonal challenge.
So in this second week of Lent:
Will you hold the grudge against your neighbor, or will you choose mercy?
Will you persecute your brother for every misstep, or will you choose mercy?
Will you dwell on the imperfections of a friend, or will you choose mercy?
Will you ridicule the co-worker who isn’t at the same place as you on their journey of equity and inclusion? Or will you choose mercy?
Will you put a price tag on the apology of your child, or will you choose mercy?
And will you be ready to accept mercy, on your darkest days, when it is extended to you?
Greg Carpinello is the executive director for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, a role he assumed in December of 2019. Greg has been studying at or working for Jesuit institutions and organizations for over 20 years. Originally from Cincinnati, he and his family now live in Portland, Oregon.