I keep hearing a word in prayer the past few weeks: It’s a funny word. It's a powerful word. It's a word we are talking about a lot in this Jubilee Year.
The word is Misericordia and it comes from two Latin words: MISERIA or misery, pity and poor. And COR or heart, mind and soul.
When put together, misery, pity, poor, heart, mind and soul, we get the origin of a word we know all too well: MERCY.
Wordsmiths will also use the word tenderheartedness. Misericordia.
We are witnessing mercy in action this weekend in the Gospel message with Jesus the teacher. And he’s teaching by example, not by words.
The scribes and Pharisees are trying to draw Jesus into a trap. The scene is the Temple area in Jerusalem. The Jewish Temple was the house of God, where the Holy of Holies dwelled. It was the center of religious life at the time of Jesus.
Historically, all that’s left from the destruction of the Jewish Temple is the “wailing wall” located near the Golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, a place where the Muslim prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended into heaven with the Angel Gabriel after praying with Abraham, Moses and Jesus.
Jewish historians say this site was also the exact location Abraham was set to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Needless to say, this site is special to three world religions and a place where dangerous arguments have erupted into violence for two millennia.
In this exact spot, the scribes and Pharisees are trying to trip up Jesus. “If he authorizes death, he violates Roman law, which did not allow the Jews to administer capital punishment. If he advises mercy, he violates Mosaic law (which required such a punishment for adultery).”
Jesus was in a sinister and dangerous pickle.
Pope Benedict wrote of this passage saying: “Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with his interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law. He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but his goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God's love.”
St. Augustine commenting on this passage, too, saying: "The Lord, in his response, neither failed to respect the law nor departed from His meekness."
His answer was to bend over and begin to write in the sand and rock. What did he write?
Father Hersey preached a few years ago that maybe Jesus wrote the names of all those who had relations with the woman, including some standing in the crowd condemning her and other powerful Jewish leaders of the time.
Other bible scholars say perhaps he was writing down a list of the sins committed by those in the crowd.
What we do know is Jesus turned the eyes of judgment away from the woman caught in adultery and had them gaze intently at the sinners condemning her.
Rocks were dropped, the scribes, Pharisees and others slink away and Jesus evades the trap set before him.
Then, He has one of his most beautifully pastoral conversations of the bible with a human soul, a real person trapped in sin and public shame.
This is what mercy looks like in the eyes of God. No one is denied the mercy of God. No one.
Pope Saint John Paul the Second wrote of this powerful scene: “How could we see ourselves in this Gospel without feeling a surge of confidence? How could we not recognize it as ‘good news’ for the men and women of our day, who long to rediscover the true sense of mercy and pardon? There is a need for Christian forgiveness, which instills hope and trust without weakening the struggle against evil.”
I’m reminded of another struggle against evil and a powerful scene of judgment, mercy and forgiveness in our modern world. How many have read the book “Left to Tell” or seen the documentary “Diary of Immaculèe?”
Roman Catholic Immaculèe Ilibagiza (ill-uh-bah-GEE-zuh) grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by family and friends she cherished. But in April of 1994, her native Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide pitting family against family. The violence lasted three months and after the machetes were put down nearly a million Rwandans lay slaughtered in the streets.
It stands as one of the most horrific scenes of brutal slaughter in the late 20th Century.
Immaculèe and seven other women were sheltered by a local pastor in a tiny, hidden bathroom, praying silently for three months.
In the end, most of Immaculèe’s family were murdered. In the book and documentary, we witness Immaculèe’s journey back to Rwanda after the violence.
We hear a letter from her brother the night before his execution: “Maybe our lives will be the price that must be paid for Rwanda’s salvation… I am only certain about one thing: we will all meet again. There is no doubt in my mind.”
In one powerful scene, Immaculèe asks a photographer to take a picture of her with a neighbor. That neighbor’s brother had murdered her brother who wrote that letter.
The startled photographer didn’t know what to do, but Immaculèe puts her arms around the man and says, “It’s OK. It’s OK.”
The photographer says he just about lost it in that moment, choking back tears every time he retells the story.
When Immaculèe asked to see the imprisoned man who killed her father, everyone expected her to be angry, but she only cried and looked in the man’s eyes, touched his shoulder and said, “I only have sympathy for you. I forgive you.
Immaculèe forgives in powerful and breathtaking ways. She says she worked through the hate she had in her heart through the power of prayer while terrified and trapped in that bathroom. No doubt she uttered thousands of Hail Marys and Our Fathers.
Thoughts of revenge? She says, “That was useless. That was only going to prolong the pain and hatred in this world.”
The message she most “want(s) to give is a message of love.” She says, “I have seen the damage of hatred.”
Immaculèe hid in that bathroom for 91-days and said “they never found me. But I found myself.”
Could we all learn to forgive like Immaculee or Jesus? Can we all learn not to judge people, judgment that in Immaculèe’s homeland led to unspeakable violence or in Jesus’ time nearly turned into violence against a woman? Does the judgment we have for others lead to violence toward them in our own hearts?
This is what Jesus is calling us to work on this Lent.
Catholic writer Henri Nouwen pens, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
As Immaculèe prayed the Our Father in that tiny bathroom in Rwanda, God helped her to experience the transformational power of Jesus’ words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
As the prophet Isaiah wrote in today’s reading, “Remember not the events of the past, the things long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!”
I pray we hear these powerful words and work on the judgments in our own hearts and learn to offer forgiveness to those who have harmed us.
Only in Jesus’ actions of forgiveness can we find His peace in our lives -- a peace Immaculèe experienced in recent years and the woman caught in adultery beautifully experienced two thousand years ago.