In his public ministry, Jesus demonstrated mercy in numerous ways. Not only did he heal people, and relieve their suffering. He showed mercy in subtle and simple ways: listening to people, experiencing the emotions of inner movement, as well as cultivating friendships.
No feast exemplifies mercy more than Good Friday:
The events of Good Friday and, even before that, in prayer in Gethsemane, introduce a fundamental change into the whole course of the revelation of love and mercy in the messianic mission of Christ. The one who “went about doing good and healing”(Acts 10:38) and “curing every sickness and disease”(Mt. 9:35) now Himself seems to merit the greatest mercy and to appeal for mercy, when He is arrested, abused, condemned, scourged, crowned with thorns, when He is nailed to the cross and dies amidst agonizing torments.(Cf. Mk. 15:37; Jn. 19:30) It is then that He particularly deserves mercy from the people to whom He has done good, and He does not receive it. Even those who are closest to Him cannot protect Him and snatch Him from the hands of His oppressors. At this final stage of His messianic activity the words which the prophets, especially Isaiah, uttered concerning the Servant of Yahweh are fulfilled in Christ: “Through his stripes we are healed.”(Is. 53:5).
Jesus shows human beings mercy, even when the same people did not return mercy at the hour of his torment, arrest, and execution. What does that mean for us? My sense is that we are dealing with something deeper than a historical event. It is easy enough for us to say in hindsight, “I would have stood with Jesus. I would have gone in his place.” But the reality of the spiritual life is that we are given opportunities often enough. But we don’t always stand with him. We don’t always demonstrate the mercy we long for and which is 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