Mercy begins at home

Homecomings can be powerful moments. In this account, taken from the pages of Luke's Gospel, Jesus returns home to Nazareth at the age of 30 after going away for some time to finalize preparations for His public ministry and to initiate it in Jerusalem. He knows that prophets often are not accepted in their own hometowns. He knows that it will be extra hard for the good folks from Nazareth to grasp that He is not only a prophet, but indeed the Messiah. Yet, He knows that He can't shy away from the task, so He goes home to proclaim the kingdom of God and reveal His identity.

Jesus, according to custom, enters the local synagogue on the Sabbath. I am sure that everyone in Nazareth was both excited and anxious to see what he would do or say. Jesus is handed the famous scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Our Lord unrolls it and announces in plain language that He is indeed the Messiah, the "Anointed One": "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me ... Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."

What comes next was also earthshaking. Jesus makes it clear that He has not come to overthrow the Romans and restore Jewish rule over Judea and Galilee, a most common hope and expectation for the long-awaited Messiah. He did not come to raise an army or reconstitute a government.

Rather, Jesus came down from heaven to build a kingdom of love and truth and to offer to the world the great gift of the Father's mercy: "He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free ..."

Pope Francis is, not surprisingly, profoundly inspired by Jesus' mission of mercy. He is convinced that Christians, and indeed the whole world, desperately need to hear the good news of God's tender mercy. The pope thinks that mercy is at the very core of the church's mission and that significant pockets of the church have lost their focus on this mission.

So, our Holy Father has inaugurated a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Jesus came down from heaven and took on our human nature to bring to a hurting and broken world the merciful love of God the Father. In fact, Pope Francis begins his document, "Misericordiae Vultus," announcing this great year with a clear statement: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy." The Holy Father goes on to say: "The signs he (Jesus) works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion" ("Misericordiae Vultus," No. 8).

In this inspired document, Pope Francis is summoning Christians all over the world to a threefold mission: to experience the mercy of God, to contemplate it with grateful hearts and to be a living instrument, carrying that mercy into every corner of creation. "Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us" ("Misericordiae Vultus," No. 9).

Mercy, similar to charity, begins at home. Our homes need to be an oasis of mercy. Might this be the reason for Jesus' return to the synagogue in Nazareth? Is there someone in your family who needs from you a generous outpouring of the Father's tender mercy?

Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington and director of the Youth Apostles Institute in McLean.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016