"Darkness came over the whole land"

"From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
(Matt 27:45-46)
Here we are, one week from Easter and our celebration of the greatest act of love and mercy in the history of creation: the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are also is the midst of a truly frightening time for the world, and many unexpected people--health care workers, bus drivers, shop clerks--are being asked to "take up [their] cross daily" and follow him by putting themselves at risk for others (Luke 9:23). Others are suffering with illness, unemployment or a mourning the passing of people they love. Their hearts echo the Lord's words when he cries in desolation: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt 27:46)

Whether or not we are personally in these situations, today, Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, we are all asked to reflect on what taking up the cross really means in our own lives. What does it mean to reflect radical mercy the way that Jesus does?

To find out, we can look to the wisdom that he gave us during his own passion. This will show us the kind of interior attitudes that our life of mercy will require.

Strive for Healing

If you look at your social media, I bet you’ll notice a strange phenomenon. People seem to go back and forth between insisting that we should all ‘live and let live’ and pointing out that the people they don’t agree with are a ‘special kind of stupid’. This has always been the case, but in times of crisis it gets worse. Sometimes it can be the same person doing both in the same hour!

If we are honest, we must admit that each of us suffer from a dual temptation to be alternately judgmental and indifferent. Our Master, however, was neither. He was committed instead to radical forgiveness. From the cross Jesus forgives even his own executioners: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).

He is not indifferent to their actions and their choices, yet he was willing to look deep into their hearts and take pity on the kind of anger and confusion that drove them to commit such a heinous act. To pray not for their punishment, but for their healing.

How do we react in our own lives? Are we quick to condemn? Do we simply ignore wrongs as if they weren’t there?

Real mercy does neither of these things: it sees the wrong clearly and strives for healing…especially for the wrongdoer.

Don’t Make People Earn It

By definition, nobody deserves mercy. Mercy is not something you can earn. Yet we often require people to earn their way back into our good graces when they have wronged us—to earn the ‘mercy’ of forgiving them.

Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t require any ‘trial period’ for his forgiveness. To the thief next to him on the cross he says: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). No probation; no payback. Just mercy.

Are we willing to do the same? To really forgive our debtors…not because they’ve earned it but because we have the grace to give it freely?

Don’t Forget Those Closest to Us

It has always amazed me: from the pain and darkness of the cross, in the midst of carrying the sins of the world and offering himself to the Father for our salvation, Jesus takes the time to make arrangements for his mother. He puts her in the care of the beloved disciple with the words “Woman, behold, your son” and “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27).

If we desire to become people of mercy, it is important not to neglect small acts of mercy toward those to whom we are the closest. It is easy to imagine living out heroic acts of mercy while being unmerciful in little ways toward our family and friends.

Do we hold little things against those we are closest to or do we concentrate on their good even in the midst of our own trials?

Don’t Give Up, Even in the Darkness

It is one thing to make some merciful gestures now and again, but it is quite another to live out mercy full time. It can be a lonely road that leads us to dark places. I have seen a number of people begin with good intentions down that road only to become discouraged when, instead of happiness and blessings, they find pain and misunderstanding.

I think that we expect ‘instant karma’: that our efforts will immediately be met by a reward. This, though, is a decidedly un-Christian notion. While there is certainly blessing and true resurrection in store for those who choose discipleship, the way to that Easter joy leads through Calvary.

Jesus himself experiences the depths of that darkness, even crying out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Yet in the midst of that pained cry, he keeps his focus on God—his true identity and ultimate destination.

How about us? Are we willing to extend mercy to others even when it seems to be having little effect? Do we imagine some immediate reward or are we remaining focused on the goal of our faith?

Remember, as disciples we have chosen the hard road. It is worth the difficulty, but only if we are willing to follow through.

Cultivate a Thirst for Souls

As Jesus hangs on the cross he cries out “I thirst” (John 19:28). Of course, he was experiencing a literal, physical thirst. But there is a deeper spiritual lesson in this short cry. Remember, Jesus taught his disciples to hunger and thirst for righteousness in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:6). He continues to thirst after righteousness from his throne upon the cross. But he thirsts for something else, too.

He thirsts for souls—for us.

If we are going to be effective vessels of his mercy, we too must develop that thirst. It is not enough to simply perform works of mercy. We have to cultivate a deep desire for souls, a longing for people to be reunited with God and experience his salvation. This doesn’t mean that we are always preaching sermons—but it does mean that our works of mercy should flow from our desire and reflect that desire. Like Jesus who endures suffering and death not for its own sake but for ours, we are called to care profoundly about the spiritual good of others.

In the end, we are not trying to ‘earn points’ but to touch hearts by transmitting the love and mercy of Christ in our own actions.

Don’t Worry about the Results

One important corollary of this freedom from trying to earn merit through our action is that is frees us from being preoccupied with results. There is, of course, a real human tendency to measure success...to ask if our works of mercy are really ‘working.’ Yet when we become preoccupied with somehow ‘achieving the victory’ we miss the primary point: the love and mercy flowing through us is the victory. That victory has already been won...it is simply taking on new flesh in us if we allow it to.

As Jesus says on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30). He alone has conquered sin and death. He alone has won the victory, achieved the result. We are simply living it out in our own place and time.
So we can step out in confidence without worrying about ‘saving the world’—that salvation is already here.

Stay Connected to the Source of Mercy

That being said, there is some bad news: everything I have just described above is utterly impossible for us to accomplish in our human weakness. It is beyond our natural capacity to give without counting the cost, to forgive those that hurt us most deeply, to lay down our desire for results.

The good news: nothing is impossible with God. He is able to give us a supernatural capacity for mercy. But we have to remain connected to him as our source.

Jesus, in his final words before his death, gives us not only a beautiful glimpse into his soul but also a priceless piece of wisdom when he cries out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We, too, must commend our spirits to our Father.

Do we hesitate? Are we afraid that we are not ready or worth to fully abandon ourselves and our efforts to him?

The truth is that the Father is not waiting for us to be ready or to become worthy. He loves us already with an everlasting loves—desiring nothing more than to embrace us and our lives, broken as they can sometimes be. In order to become people of mercy, we only need to “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Heb. 4:16).

He is there...waiting for us.

May God grant us the grace to reach out to him with renewed confidence this Holy Week and transform us into a true source of mercy and consolation for a world that is in desperate need for it.

Popular Articles