In the gospel, we read about a woman, who was caught red-handed and was on her way to certain death, that too one of the most cruel methods of execution. She was accused of adultery and Moses had instructed that such women should be stoned to death. The Mosaic law was very clear. Yet the Pharisees and Scribes who were well versed in the law brought her to Jesus, with the clear intention to trap him. Their question was simple and to the point; “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (Jn 8:4-5). Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they persisted in their effort to extract a response from Jesus, he gave them the ultimate answer; “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” After giving this answer Jesus again returned to the work that he was so fondly doing before; bending down and writing on the ground. It was only after all those gathered there dispersed one by one, that Jesus straightened up and started to talk to her. ‘Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (Jn 8:9-10).
Have you ever thought why Jesus did not straighten up till then? Because he knew that this poor woman who was living in sin could not face the eyes of Jesus. Especially when she was living in mortal sin and going to reap its reward, which was nothing but death! So the first thing Jesus did was to remove the yoke of punishment from her shoulders and disperse all those who were gathered there to accuse her. After this only he leads that woman to salvation. We need not doubt the words of Jesus when he says; ‘Neither do I condemn you’. Because it was the same Jesus who once said; “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son” (Jn 5:22). It is natural that a judge who wields the power to condemn somebody has also the power to forgive him also.
The Lord intervened in the life of that woman exactly at the moment, when she thought that she would not get mercy from anybody and that her fate was sealed. Jesus was manifesting that Divine Mercy does not know boundaries nor is it measurable. Our God stretches his merciful hands to everyone, even to those who do not deserve it according to human arithmetic. The life of each one of us is an example to this eternal truth. Unless the mercy of God supported me at the right time, I would not have been here to write this. Neither would you read this.
So this is the first lesson about Divine Mercy. What we are today is solely because of God’s mercy. Second lesson is that we should be ready to draw what we need from the perennial fount of Divine mercy. We should not be lax in approaching the seat of mercy. In the letter to the Hebrews we read; ‘Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ (Heb. 4:16). Those who are in need of mercy should ask for it, for Divine Mercy is not a right so as to make us entitled to it automatically. The mistake that Adam and Eve committed was that when they were supposed to ask for God’s mercy, they instead hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden. Had they confessed their sin and prayed for God’s mercy the history of our world would have taken a different course.
To put it in other words, our failure in not seeking God’s mercy when it is most needed will make our future – both before and after death- bleak and miserable. Best example is one of the criminals who was crucified along with Jesus. He did not care to seek mercy from the Lord when it was available in plenty. On the other hand, his accomplice who was going through the same punishment in another cross on the other side of Jesus submitted himself to Divine Mercy with a small prayer and reaped a big harvest extending into eternity. ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ (Lk 23:42)
Does it mean that, if a small prayer could get us the result, our lengthy prayers and acts of mortification are all superfluous?. No. What we should keep in our mind is that more than the length of our prayers or the number of our good works, what God considers is our heart. He is looking at our thirst to get ourselves covered by His mercy. Every prayer for mercy that we submit as a ritual without this sincere longing for it becomes mere lip service.
The letter to the Hebrews advises us about the way to approach the seat of grace for mercy. It should be with hope that we approach God because ‘hope does not disappoint us’ (Rom 5:5). Those who take refuge in God should believe that God truly exists and that He will reward those who believe in Him. Our prayer for mercy should come from a deep conviction that our prayers will be heard and that God will shower his mercy on us. The reason for our prayers going unheard and unresponded is due to our lack of faith. For many of us prayer has become a mere ritual without any faith in its efficacy. Can we expect anything good from this kind of prayer? James tells us; ‘For the doubter, being double -minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord’ (Jas 1:7-8)
But the one thing that destroys our hope in God’s mercy is the thought that, we being grave sinners are not entitled to receive God’s mercy. When teaching about the sins against the Holy Spirit, the Church mentions ‘despairing of salvation’ as the first among them. This is when a person loses the hope that he could be saved. It is a kind of premature self judgment, even before the time of God’s Judgment, believing that his eternal life is already lost and that he is condemned. Do hardened sinners get God’s mercy? Let us ask Paul and he will reply; ‘The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost’ (1 Tim 1:15).
Paul explains the reasons for God’s mercy to be given to a person who himself confesses that he was the foremost of sinners. ’But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life’ ( 1 Tim 1:16).
Paul wrote this from his personal experience because a generation would come, who though believe in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation would doubt the depth of Divine Mercy. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these lines because the devil would use this weapon of despair of salvation to capture the souls of even those who would follow Jesus. So keep one thing in mind. God is not concerned about how big a sinner I am. Rather He looks at the way I approach Him. If we trust fully in the Lord and sincerely pray for His mercy, our prayer for mercy will be answered.
We have already seen that mercy is not a right or privilege. It is an act of magnanimity from our God. But we should pray for God’s mercy as if it is our right. Our prayers for mercy should rise from such a firm belief in the goodness of God. At the same time, our mindset should resemble that of the tax collector who went to the temple to pray. He, who was ‘standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’ (Lk 18:13). He thought in his heart that he was not worthy to even look up to heaven.. Yet his self assessment of unworthiness before God did not prevent him from approaching the throne of grace for mercy. This humbleness only made him acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. It made him receive God’s mercy of which he once thought that he was not entitled to!
The Scripture testifies the failure of Israel who sought God through law. ‘But Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling the law’ (Rom 9:31). Indeed it is impossible for a man to please God through the fulfillment of the law. This is the reason why God himself descended from heaven and dwelt among us and gave us a new law of love and mercy superseding the old law.
Yet we doubt Divine mercy. We are indifferent to it and excuse ourselves from taking shelter under God’s mercy. What we forget in the process is that God’s mercy is our last resort. We cannot expect anything beyond it. It is a strong fortress inaccessible to the devil. Once you take shelter under its wings, no evil will touch you because the weapons of the devil are pitifully inadequate to pierce its walls.
The person whom we call ‘the good thief’ received mercy from the Lord because he asked for it at the right time. Think about his accomplice and friend, ‘the bad thief’. We know that Jesus breathed his last much before the death of these two criminals. The bad thief should have heard the cry of the centurion. ‘Certainly, this man was innocent’ (Lk 23:47). He was also witnessing the signs and miracles occurring both in the heavens above him and on the earth beneath him that signified the accomplishment of the eternal sacrifice of Jesus on cross. Looking at the way the heavens and earth responded to the news of Jesus’ death, it should have come to his mind that Jesus was truly someone sent by God. Perhaps, the bad thief would have asked for mercy from Jesus, had Jesus been alive then. But for him, unfortunately the door of mercy was closed by then!
Yes, we should know that there will come a time when the doors of mercy do close. Jesus said this to St Faustina also. What will be left after the door of mercy is closed, will be just God’s justice. Jesus has warned us sufficiently in advance that those who refuse to enter through the door of mercy will be made to enter through the door of justice. It is impossible for man to go through the door of Divine justice and present himself before the Lord whose eyes are ‘ten thousand times brighter than the sun’ (Sir 23:19).
This is why it is said that Divine mercy is our last resort. Woe to those who ignore it! Jesus has often told Faustina that any prayer for mercy on behalf of a dying person is pleasing to the Lord. Many a time Faustina was asked to pray for somebody –strangers included- who were in danger of death. Later Jesus revealed to her that her prayers were effective and that they helped the dying soul.
From the Diary of St Faustina: ‘Say unceasingly the chaplet (of Divine Mercy) that I have taught you. Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death. Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy. I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy ( Diary 687)
The chaplet of Divine Mercy is the last resort of sinners as well. This is why Jesus instructed the priests to tell sinners about it as their last hope of salvation.
Divine mercy is not something that is exclusively reserved for sinners and the dying. It is also the last resort of those who consider themselves righteous. It is said that even the righteous fall seven times. And the Scripture tells us that nobody should be called ‘blessed’ until his death. Meditate on these verses, and the need to deeply trust in Divine Mercy will dawn on those who consider themselves righteous. It has been two decades since St Pope John Paul II described Divine Mercy as the last remaining hope for mankind. “Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind”.
What we were telling till now was about receiving mercy from God. Mercy has another dimension as well. It relates to the duty of those who get mercy from God. The Scripture is candid in this aspect as we see in the gospel of Mathew. ‘Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave as I had mercy on you?’ (Mt 18:33). Elsewhere Jesus exhorts us to be as merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. ‘ Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy’ (Mt 5:7).
Like that unforgiving servant, even today many forfeit the Divine Mercy worth ten thousand talents, just because of their refusal to forgive their brothers and neighbors a meager hundred denarii. Isn’t this the biggest foolishness one can do in this world?
Jesus tells Faustina and through her to each one of us: ‘I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first- by deed, the second – by word, the third- by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me’ (Diary 742).
We should beseech God for His mercy now, always and especially at the hours of our death. We should also pray for God’s mercy to envelope all others, especially those who are in immediate danger of death. Remember that it is worth thousands of talents. Also remember that it is our last resort, beyond which nothing but darkness and despair awaits us.
Be assured that Jesus will never shame us in public, when we fall at his feet. After all, he straightened up and looked at the woman who was caught in adultery, only after offering his mercy and saving her from certain punishment!
Let us pray: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us and the whole world.