Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
(This article is #7 in a series on the Trinity)
To be merciful is to reach down and help the helpless, helping even those undeserving of such help. We are the helpless ones; because of the fall we are unable to accomplish anything spiritual or eternal; we are even set against God. God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—has reached out with mercy to give us helpless sinners eternal help. He is the source of mercy, and thus in our worship we repeatedly cry to Him for mercy. Appropriately, our frequent liturgical cry for mercy is thrice repeated, as for instance we chant, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” Our God is Triune.
When Jesus exhorts, Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful, He is lifting up the heavenly Father as the model of mercy. How is God the Father merciful? He is merciful as He continues to give temporal blessings even to unbelievers. In Sunday’s Gospel Jesus explains that God the Father is kind to the ungrateful and the evil [v 35]. One example of this kindness is the Father’s continued earthly providence to fallen mankind. In the parallel text in Matthew, Jesus explains that the Father makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust [5:45]. However the heavenly Father’s greatest act of mercy is realized in that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [John 3:16]. He did not merely give His Son to become one of us, He gave His Son to suffer and die in our place. Thus the Father goes beyond bestowing temporal mercy in that He gives to helpless humanity eternal mercy, for He sends His Son to purchase—by His blood—everlasting life. We often connect our salvation with the sufferings of Jesus, but we are likely remiss in failing to identify the suffering of the Father, as He grievingly gave His Son to be our suffering substitute.
Even as the heavenly Father is the model of mercy, so too we observe the Son of God showing mercy—reaching down to help the helpless and the undeserving. On numerous occasions, the helpless cried to Jesus for mercy. For example a blind beggar—though the disciples wanted him silenced—persisted in crying, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me [Lu 18:38]. Even as the heavenly Father gives temporal blessings, thus bestowing mercy on fallen mankind, so too the incarnate Son of God miraculously healed many ailing folk who pleaded for His mercy. And even as the Father’s eternally-giving act of mercy was to send His Son to the cross, so too the Son’s greatest act of mercy was to willingly sacrifice His body and blood, so our bodies could receive not merely temporary healing, but immortality.
So what about the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit? He is essential in enabling the mercy of the Father and the Son to be extended to fallen mankind, and He is essential in enabling us to be merciful as the Father is merciful. In mercy, the Father sent His Son into the world, and the Son was incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, who caused the Son to be thus conceived in Mary’s womb. The Holy Spirit continued to reach out to helpless humanity as He led Jesus to walk the way of sorrows, ultimately leading Him to the cross. For example Saint Luke records, And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil [4:1]. This was the path to the cross.
While we yet live in this fallen world, enticed by the devil, the world and our flesh, the Holy Spirit invigorates us. As Jesus breathed on His disciples, bestowing upon the Church the absolving gift of the Holy Spirit [Jn 20], so Christians continue to be empowered by the forgiveness of their sins. It is only from the Spirit-conveyed forgiveness that we can do that which is right and pleasing in God’s sight; it is only from forgiveness that we can be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. Through Word and Sacrament the Holy Spirit thus brings us Christ’s blood-bought forgiveness, sanctifying our lives. May we thus, empowered by the Spirit bestowed upon us in our Baptism, show mercy to those around us, reaching out to help the helpless, and even reaching out with love toward our enemies. Such mercy was perfectly extended to us by the true God, the Triune God.