The Name of God is Mercy is Pope Francis’s first book-length conversation with Italian journalist, Andrea Tornielli. At its launch, Oscar-winning actor and director, Roberto Benigni, praised the Pope for ‘dragging the whole Church towards Christianity. In such an unrecognisable world, that wants hatred and condemnation, Francis responds with mercy’.
The Latin word for mercy is ‘misericordia’, which comprises two words, ‘miseria’ which means misery, wretchedness, and ‘cor’ which means heart. Mercy, then, is the encounter between God’s heart and our human misery. God taking on our flesh is the ultimate act of mercy – when Jesus Christ stooped down to us – when God took a human heart to Himself so as to enter and share our misery – and in His mercy to love us in a way that saves us from our wretchedness. Mercy is that heart-felt instinct, that openness to be moved in the depths. It is to bend, to reach out, towards the pain and suffering of another – indeed, it’s a willingness to enter their chaos.
The Name of God is Mercy. Mercy is not a new invention, but who God is. From the beginning, when creation was a formless void – chaos – God entered and spoke a good, creative Word, a Word of Mercy. When the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, the Lord led them out of their misery and revealed Himself to Moses as ‘The Lord, God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, and abounding in love’. The word, ‘compassion’ in the Hebrew language denotes the depths of a person, the pit of their being, it’s something visceral. God loves us literally in a heart-wrenching, visceral way.
What God felt for His People is felt personally with the coming of Christ. Whether it is Jesus’s response to the blind man, the leper, the woman caught in adultery, the widow of Nain, Jesus’s response is Mercy. Does that make God a pushover? Does that mean that we can do anything and everything and for it not to matter because God will forgive us anyway? Not at all. One biblical scholar has reminded us, ‘that God’s mercy makes the highest possible demands of us, for we are created in order to radiate God’s image and likeness’. Once mercy has been tasted, our life can never be the same again. Think of the woman who wept over Jesus’s feet and wiped them with her hair. Jesus defended her by saying, ‘See this woman, because she has sinned much she can love much’. Jesus is not inviting us to sin more in order to experience His love, but to recognise the truth that we are all sinners, and, as such, now is the moment of grace, the moment of mercy, to bare the truth of who we are to the truth of who God is. In that encounter is Mercy Himself.