Last Resort

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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  mentionsdespairing 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.

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