Recently I met a young man called John. He was 22, well over six foot, covered in tattoos and obviously spent a lot of time in the gym. When we had a break, I caught up with him and asked him how he’d ended up in our gathering.
He told me that his mother had been a heroin-addicted prostitute. When he was five, her boyfriend had beaten him up and thrown him out. I was immediately filling up as I imagined this vulnerable five-year-old on the streets with nowhere to go.
He got himself into crime, stealing to stay alive, and became part of a Fagin-style group of pickpockets. He’d been in a couple of young offenders’ institutions and then graduated to prison, serving time for drugs and GBH. He’d attempted suicide a couple of times and was heavily medicated to keep him stress-free. His presence with us was because he had nowhere else to go.
I thought of him when I was reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew has Jesus challenge us with several questions. Are we prepared to be love in the world? Are we prepared to be compassion in the world? Are we merciful?
At the heart of the Gospel of Matthew is mercy. That image of the merciful face of God is the one that Matthew wants us to know most fully. Megan McKenna calls it ‘the gospel of mercy’ because throughout it, Jesus acts from mercy and constantly invites us to be merciful too, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount where he challenges us to not to judge or condemn but always to let mercy flow.
Even the challenges that Jesus gave, chiefly to the Scribes and the Pharisees, were always to enable people to move into areas of mercy, of undeserved kindness. One of the truths of mercy is that it sets us free, free from our brokenness and pain. It frees us to know that we’re loved and forgiven. When this happens, we are free to be who we are called to be and to do what is demanded of us for the sake of the world.
And just what is demanded of us is to let mercy flow through us and into the lives of the poorest and most broken in society. Yet all too often we make faith into ritual and rules to be followed rather than about mercy. Unless we let loving mercy flow through us, we have no hope to offer the world. Mercy is what will change the world. Mercy is at the heart of the Kingdom that we are invited to be part of. Let’s pray that we’ll have the courage to let this mercy flow.