HE WHO SEES ME SEES THE FATHER (cf. John 14:9)
Dives in Misericordia
II. THE MESSIANIC MESSAGE
3. When Christ Began To Do and To Teach
Before His own townspeople, in Nazareth, Christ refers to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”19 These phrases, according to Luke, are His first messianic declaration. They are followed by the actions and words known through the Gospel. By these actions and words Christ makes the Father present among men. It is very significant that the people in question are especially the poor, those without means of subsistence, those deprived of their freedom, the blind who cannot see the beauty of creation, those living with broken hearts, or suffering from social injustice, and finally sinners. It is especially for these last that the Messiah becomes a particularly clear sign of God who is love, a sign of the Father. In this visible sign the people of our own time, just like the people then, can see the Father.
It is significant that, when the messengers sent by John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask Him: “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”,20 He answered by referring to the same testimony with which He had begun His teaching at Nazareth: “Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” He then ended with the words: “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me”.21
Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live – an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty – in contact with the whole historical “human condition,” which in various ways manifests man’s limitation and frailty, both physical and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests itself that in biblical language is called “mercy.”
Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is “love,” as St. John will express it in his first letter22; Christ reveals God as “rich in mercy,” as we read in St. Paul.23 This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is a reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ’s own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of His mission as the Messiah; this is confirmed by the words that He uttered first in the synagogue at Nazareth and later in the presence of His disciples and of John the Baptist’s messengers.
On the basis of this way of manifesting the presence of God who is Father, love and mercy, Jesus makes mercy one of the principal themes of His preaching. As is His custom, He first teaches “in parables,” since these express better the very essence of things. It is sufficient to recall the parable of the prodigal son,24 or the parable of the Good Samaritan,25 but also – by contrast – the parable of the merciless servant.26 There are many passages in the teaching of Christ that manifest love-mercy under some ever-fresh aspect. We need only consider the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, 27 or the woman who sweeps the house in search of the lost coin.28 The Gospel writer who particularly treats of these themes in Christ’s teaching is Luke, whose Gospel has earned the title of “the Gospel of mercy.”
When one speaks of preaching, one encounters a problem of major importance with reference to the meaning of terms and the content of concepts, especially the content of the concept of “mercy” (in relationship to the concept of “love”). A grasp of the content of these concepts is the key to understanding the very reality of mercy. And this is what is most important for us. However, before devoting a further part of our considerations to this subject, that is to say, to establishing the meaning of the vocabulary and the content proper to the concept of mercy,” we must note that Christ, in revealing the love – mercy of God, at the same time demanded from people that they also should be guided in their lives by love and mercy. This requirement forms part of the very essence of the messianic message, and constitutes the heart of the Gospel ethos. The Teacher expresses this both through the medium of the commandment which He describes as “the greatest,”29 and also in the form of a blessing, when in the Sermon on the Mount He proclaims: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”30
In this way, the messianic message about mercy preserves a particular divine-human dimension. Christ – the very fulfillment of the messianic prophecy – by becoming the incarnation of the love that is manifested with particular force with regard to the suffering, the unfortunate and sinners, makes present and thus more fully reveals the Father, who is God “rich in mercy.” At the same time, by becoming for people a model of merciful love for others, Christ proclaims by His actions even more than by His words that call to mercy which is one of the essential elements of the Gospel ethos. In this instance it is not just a case of fulfilling a commandment or an obligation of an ethical nature; it is also a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal Himself in His mercy to man: “The merciful…shall obtain mercy.”