When Jesus challenges us to be compassionate as his heavenly Father is compassionate it is virtually the same message as when he challenges the Pharisees to seek mercy and not sacrifice. What does he mean by this? Far be it from me to claim that I know the mind of Jesus on this matter but let me suggest a possible explanation. I think Jesus is referring to the nature of our being a community. To make personal sacrifices and lead an ascetical life is all very well but it really only affects the individual. To lead a merciful life, on the other hand, requires that we be in relationship with others and that our sacrifices (having mercy) will necessarily impinge upon these relationships for the better!

Jesus/God is not really interested in a whole lot of holy individuals living separate lives. He wants the faith community to be a living a vibrant community that is interacting with one another all the time. He wants us to be in relationship with other; this will necessarily require us to grow in mercy as when we get into relationships with others they will hurt us and we will hurt them. Healing these hurts will require mercy.

Jesus is telling the Pharisees to shift the focus from judging the rights and wrongs of peoples’ lives to fixing the broken relationships within the community. Jesus is an expert on community because he comes from the undivided Trinity where three persons share everything fully in a perfect way. Jesus is speaking from experience, an experience I believe informs him that it is imperative that we have mercy on one another in order to focus on improving the strength and healthiness of our relationships.

Jesus gives a perfect example of this when he calls a tax collector to be one of his disciples. Tax collectors are the scum of the earth as far as the faithful Jew is concerned because not only do they take money from a person; they are collaborating with the Roman occupier to do it! Rarely were they content with just the right amount of tax too; they often took a bit for themselves on the side! Jesus does not allow this big problem to stop him from associating with tax collectors. How else are they going to be drawn back into the life of the faith community unless someone seeks to develop a relationship with them to the point that he/she can speak the truth to them in love and mercy?

Do I have people in my life to whom I should be merciful but am not? What am I going to do about this?

Jesus, help me to grow in my capacity for mercy and to minister it to others.

(In Australia the feast of St Patrick is celebrated)