Before reading this reflection, please meditate on today’s readings.
Because it is preparation for the Christian life, the Old Testament is characterized by at least these two ideas: We should do things for the glory of God; therefore, we should hold fast against sin. As then, as now, there are no excuses for sin, and only God’s mercy forestalls losing God’s favor forever. These are necessary points to understand the words of today’s reading:
“We have sinned, been wicked and done evil; we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws. … O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers, for having sinned against you.”
Through the mouth of David the prophet, this is a plea for mercy from God’s chosen people. Pleas for mercy, you’ll notice, are not pleas of “innocent” or “not guilty.” They are guilty pleas. At root, they are confessions, though naturally not sacramental confessions as given later to the Church. Not only does such confession suggest a moral standard which will not be changed, it suggests a failure to meet that unchanging standard. There is no hope in changing God, after all. There is only hope in God’s mercy. The Pslamist continues:
“Help us, O God our savior, because of the glory of your name; Deliver us and pardon our sins for your name’s sake.”
For your glory, God, show us mercy, for we have broken your laws.
Here’s a fascinating element: Not only this, but these pleas for mercy come after God has already shown them mercy! Consider the very first part of the first reading. According to Daniel, the Old Covenant was already merciful — what humility it is to ask for even more mercy when mercy was already given. “We are guilty, and we who have been given mercy already require more,” the prophets and psalmists say. As Christians, we are in a similar situation.
In our sins against God, and our pleas for mercy, we must have Daniel’s humility. God has already shown us mercy, and yet when we sin we should ask for more, and still God gives it. Truly, then, God gives a good measure, overflowing, when his mercy is accepted. Accept his mercy, of course — but that is not quite the point of today’s Gospel reading. Instead, the topic is this: How do we accept God’s mercy? From the Gospel:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
If we are to be merciful as God is merciful, then there is at least this conclusion: Our mercy ought to be freely extended, as God’s is, even if later it is not accepted. We ought also repent of our sins, but not just as David does. Having the benefit of the Church, we ought also receive the sacrament of confession.
Authors Note: There is a famous phrase in today’s Gospel which often eclipses the point of its passage. If you would like to read about “Judge not and you shall not be judged,” Mr. Jimmy Akin wrote a fine essay on the topic.