As we continue to walk through Ordinary Time, the Church draws from the Sacred Scriptures and repeatedly gives testimony to the immense love God has for each of us. Through the sacred narrative of the Bible, we are reminded of the invitation God constantly offers to each of us to enter into an active relationship with him. In this encounter God desires to be with us. In this way, we see a reflection of his goodness and kindness toward us.
The reality of God’s goodness was expressed in the Old Testament through the Hebrew word hesed. Although the word is usually defined as “loving kindness,” it is actually difficult to fully translate, since it describes God’s benevolence, tenderness, magnanimity, forbearance and hospitality toward us. In the ancient world, the use of the word in the narrative of God’s people left no question in anyone’s mind that the living God of Israel, the great I AM, desired to be in communion with his people.
The simple expression hesed was a declaration of familiarity and companionship. It meant (and means) that God wants to be with us, he loves us, and he welcomes us into his family. As such, it is a family-based invitation to enter into and be a part of a vibrant relationship with God.
Such an overture of the living God was in stark contrast to the myths of the ancient Greeks and Romans, who saw the gods as capricious, hurtful, self-absorbed deities who sought to inflict harm and suffering upon us out of jealousy, pettiness, and boredom. In contrast to such treatment, the God of Israel—who is the God of Jesus Christ—is Good, True, Beautiful, and he reveals himself to us as Father. As a loving Father, he dispels the deception of pagan myths. He shows us constant hesed, namely, loving kindness that endures.
It’s important that we start with this broad, relational understanding of hesed because the word also has another more specific translation. The word hesed is also translated as “mercy.” Yes, everything that was just summarized about God’s loving kindness is inherently included in the biblical definition of mercy.
Oftentimes, in contemporary usage, when we think of mercy, we minimize it and think of it only as the means of removing guilt. While that’s certainly included in hesed, it doesn’t explain why God would do it. The full definition of hesed gives a full and clear explanation of why God would forgive us. As the Lord Jesus leads us to the mercy of God, we should seek to understand the depth and breadth of God’s loving kindness toward us. We should remember this benevolence as the background and basis of his invitation for us to be in a relationship with him.
Mercy is a force beyond our imagination. It is more powerful that an infinity of nuclear explosions, more gentle than a baby’s smile, more intimate that a young couple’s first kiss, and more tender than a sleeping child in his mother’s arms.
These wondrous qualities of mercy only work, however, if we let them. We have to be willing to accept God’s mercy and the healing that comes with it. It is an open font available to anyone. It is an inherent part of God’s invitation for us to be with him.
Pope Francis reminds us: “God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones… Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
As we make our journey through Ordinary Time, we are summoned to lift our droopy shoulders, raise up our heads, and hear the words of the living God calling us to himself. The only barrier that can keep us from him are the ones we create and reinforce by our own fallenness.
In God’s call to each of us, fallen and wayward, we can see a reflection of his loving kindness. We can respond to this love and demolish the bastions around our souls and declare our trust in him. We can open every door of our hearts, accept his invitation, and follow him. We can do this with confidence, knowing that he will warmly accept us, and bless us with his grace and mercy.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby