Perhaps the most striking things that Pope Francis has shown the world not only since the beginning of the Year of Mercy, but really, since the beginning of his pontificate, are the concepts of both relationship and encounter. In particular, the Holy Father has often challenged the Church to encounter those who we often least want to show mercy to.
In the Gospel of Luke, there is a powerful scene of this type of encounter. In Luke 7, Jesus goes to dine at the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While there, a woman of the city—we aren’t told exactly who she is, but we know that she is a sinner; and apparently a well known one at that—enters into the house and begins anointing Jesus’ feet with ointment, and wiping them with her hair. This would have been a pretty shocking scene at any dinner party! Simon, the Pharisee host is shocked, angered, and says that if Jesus was really a prophet, he would understand what kind of a woman this is, and would never allow her to do this to him.
Jesus’ response is striking! He says, “Simon, do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44). I don’t think Jesus’ question is a rhetorical one. Simon doesn’t see a woman, he sees walking sin! Someone unwelcome, undesirable, and perhaps … unworthy of Jesus’ mercy. He could not bring himself to encounter a person so in need of God’s mercy.
In God’s divine plan, no human being is unworthy of mercy, of encounter, of relationship! It has been said that humans were created “out of relationship, for the sake of relationship.” The God that Catholics profess is, at his heart, a relationship. Three Persons in one. The Trinity is a community; a divine, eternal encounter!
The Bible shows us that human beings were made for relationship. In the beginning—way back in the book of Genesis, when human beings were created—we are told that humans lived in four harmonious relationships.1 First and foremost, we were created to be in a loving, right relationship with God himself. This was the fundamental relationship that defined all others. And because we were in relationship with God, we were also, secondly, in a right, holy relationship with ourselves. Our passions, our desires, our self image, all of these things matched up with what God wanted. Thirdly, humans were originally in right relationship with each other. Adam and Eve were created to be a gift to one another. There was no war, no strife, no fighting. And lastly, humans were called to be in a right, holy relationship with all of creation. We were made to understand our place in the world, and to live in it as images of God himself.
We all know the story though. Original sin—Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, to break that first relationship—sent all the other relationships spiraling into chaos. Now we have a world in which we don’t always love and trust God, we don’t do things that are good and holy for us, we fight with the people around us, and we don’t understand our place in God’s creation.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Jesus Christ came to reconcile the first and most fundamental of all human relationships: us and God. Because of this, we can have a real encounter with God in all of his mercy. Not only that, but if Jesus really did mend that first relationship, that means we can be the people he has called us to be; we can live in reconciliation with the people around us; and we really can understand what it means to live in the world God created for us! This is the message of the Gospel! This is the heart of the Year of Mercy—first of all to encounter what Jesus offers to us: to live life not in the brokenness of Adam and Eve but in the reconciliation of Jesus. Sometimes it is hard to remember that we have access to that abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10:10. We forget that we do not live in a broken world, but rather, we live in a broken but redeemed world! Jesus Christ has already won the battle and we must simply live in his victory, or more simply put, rest in his mercy.