Have mercy on me! We hear this in some of the gospel stories of encounters with Jesus. Someone sick or suffering pleads with Jesus for mercy. And usually mercy takes the form of healing and forgiveness. The individual is made whole.
We think of mercy as a feeling of generosity of spirit toward someone. A sense of compassion accompanied by a willingness to help respond to adverse circumstances in some way. Maybe some kind of material help is needed. Maybe some kind of favor or kind word is needed. We see this kind of mercy in Jesus.
But Jesus did not just look with mercy upon an individual. We are also told many times that Jesus sees the crowd. He responds to the crowd. He sees the needs of the crowd. The crowd represents a collective experience of suffering. And when group adversity is met with mercy we call it justice. Justice is a collective concept. It addresses a societal system that creates or increases suffering in a way that impacts a group of people.
When someone doesn’t have the money for a needed prescription perhaps we can help and that person will get the needed medication. That is mercy. But when a crowd has issues with access to healthcare, a change in the system is needed. That is justice.
Some people feel good about helping others on a case by case basis; help the individual. Show mercy. But they don’t want to get involved in justice. It seems too political or inflammatory. Too much rocking the boat. Other people are all about justice and changing the social arrangements that contribute to suffering but they see it as a waste to help one person. Better to eliminate the cause of the problem.
Jesus was about mercy and justice, the individual and the collective society. He was about changing lives and changing systems that negatively impact individual people. We, as the church, are also called to be attentive to mercy and justice. We are to respond to the needs of individuals and to change social circumstances that produce suffering. Yes, we donate food to Operation Attack ,but we also concern ourselves with why there are so many hungry people in the wealthiest country in the world. We want to see the individual and the crowd, like Jesus did.
As we prepare for Christmas may we remember that Jesus embodied both mercy and justice. They go together.
PrayerMay we have eyes to see the pain in the face of one person and may we have ears to hear the hurting cries of the crowd. Amen.