Jesus: Face of the Father's Mercy

The image of the face of Jesus is so familiar to us, through paintings, icons, stained glass windows, even through the 'cartoons', created by Raphael as designs for tapestries in the Sistine Chapel and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London  The impact of the image of Jesus is perhaps dimmed by familiarity that we underestimate the effect that Jesus had on those whom he encountered.

But just imagine the effect of meeting Jesus for the first time. Try to picture the effect on Peter as Jesus gets into his boat and teaches the people. What did Peter hear Jesus say? And imagine the effect on this seasoned fisherman who hauls in that abundant catch of fish after following advice from a carpenter. 

The response of Peter is to be filled with shame in the presence of this amazing person; just like Isaiah in his vision in the Temple who perceives his sinfulness in the presence of God. In recognizing the goodness of Jesus, Peter reflects on his own sins, known only to himself. He tells Jesus to leave him, but Jesus does not do what he asks. He reassures him, calms him and points out the greater task that is to be his new vocation: to be a fisher of men.

How different it would have been if Jesus had complied with Peter’s wish. He would have had no rock on which to build his church. Peter would go on to fail repeatedly, fail to understand that Jesus had to suffer, fail to understand that Jesus had come to be a humble servant, fail to keep his promise to be faithful to Jesus to the end. But each time Peter is restored; he is admonished but forgiven, and at the end of St John’s gospel after his love for Jesus is questioned, he is commissioned to take over Jesus’ role as the good shepherd of the flock.

Peter is an inspiration to any Christian who recognizes their own fallibility and weakness, he is proof of the restorative mercy of Jesus: if we fall, he will not leave us in the gutter, but will raise us up. The apostle Paul is furthermore proof of the transformative power of the mercy of Christ. He can transform the most savage persecutor into the staunchest defender of the gospel.

When Peter looks at Jesus he sees himself for what he really is. This is the opportunity that is presented to us as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. If we look more intently at Jesus and take to heart his teaching, we will better understand the true nature of God. And when we perceive our own sinful nature in the light of God’s goodness we must not say ‘Lord depart from me a sinner’ but ‘Lord have mercy on me a sinner.’

In his introductory letter to The Year of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, which I commend to you to read, Pope Francis acclaims Jesus as the face of the Father’s mercy.  Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father. By his words, his actions and his entire person Jesus of Nazareth reveals the mercy of God.

May I commend to you some Lent reading (some suggestions are on the news and events page), and our Lent groups that explore the nature of God’s mercy. In our charitable giving may we live out the corporal works of mercy feeding the hungry and giving shelter to the stranger, by supporting the Oxfam Charity supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. May what we give be more than our spare change. May we show some small element of solidarity with those who are suffering by forgoing a personal pleasure.

May we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday by recognizing and lamenting our sins by receiving the cross of ash on our foreheads as a sign of penance, that we might be touched by the coal of the seraph and our iniquity purged.

Pope Francis in his letter  says that the ‘life of the church is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy. The task of the church is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ.’

That is no small challenge, but let us rise to it. This Lent may we see Christ more clearly that we may better understand and show to others the Father’s extraordinary mercy.