The end of this numbered section is worth careful consideration. John Paul II has presented the Biblical case for the Father’s mercy, and the Son’s revelation of it. And more, really, than simply revealing divine mercy–Jesus embodies the merciful love of the Creator.
First, we are reminded that it is insufficient to master the terminology and theology of mercy. We must live it. Sometimes, before understanding it. Sometimes before we can even embrace it.
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,”(Mt. 22:38) 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.”(Mt. 5:7)
This is vital. This is a beatitude, no less than “Blessed is the one who takes no offense in me.” This is true adult education and formation: to learn by doing.
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 (people): “The merciful…shall obtain mercy.”
Thoughtful and philosophical, but the essence of mercy is that reading and studying the Scriptures, even the Gospel of Mercy, or even this encyclical letter is woefully insufficient. We have to live it. And likely, live it deeper than obligatory actions coupled with inner resentment. Christ gave his all. Disciples who claim Christ will model mercy, by the very definition of being a disciple. It is a cooperation with the salvific grace offered to us.
Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana