Sometimes the words we use to talk about God have meanings that are very close…but still a little different. One good example of this are the words “grace” and “mercy.” Ever heard the explanation of how these two terms differ? If grace is getting the GOOD stuff you DON’T deserve, mercy is NOT getting the bad stuff you DO deserve. Grace and mercy both speak about the love of God. Both are applied to God throughout the Scriptures. Sometimes we find them used interchangeably. Yet many of us are probably more familiar with the word “grace” than with “mercy.” We probably learned in Sunday School what St. Paul wrote about our salvation being by grace alone (Eph 2:8)…how there is nothing we have done to earn or deserve the good stuff that God dishes out to us in abundance. Still, because St. Paul also writes that “the wages of sin is [eternal] death, yet the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:23), we could just as easily say that salvation is by God’s mercy alone. There is bad stuff—really bad stuff—that we have earned. Yet because of Jesus, God doesn’t deal with us that way.
Through this season of Lent we will be focusing our attention on various images of God’s mercy…images that depict how and why God relents from dealing with us as natural consequences would lead us to expect He might. In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus compares his love for the people of Jerusalem to that of a hen for its endangered chicks…a hen who wants to gather its children under its wings…yet they were unwilling to be gathered. What fate do they deserve? Abandonment and destruction (Luke 13:35). You and I, the wayward children of God that we are, deserve the same. But the One who laments over Jerusalem is the same prophet who died so that Jerusalem might one day be restored. The fate we all deserve is clear. The mercy we all receive defies expectations!