December 04, 2015

A Fitting Gospel for the Jubilee Year of Mercy

Advent start[ed] on November 29 and with it, the cycle of liturgical readings for Year C. This means that next year, the Gospel of Luke will be proclaimed and preached on the Sundays of Ordinary Time and for a good number of week days.

St Luke writes his Gospel
Detail from the mosaic frieze
in the Lady chapel of Westminster
Lawrence op. Used with permission

This Advent, Pope Francis will also inaugurate the Jubilee Year of Mercy which will officially begin on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, and will end on the feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.

The Gospel of Luke is often referred to as the 'Gospel of Mercy' - so what better gospel could there be for the Jubilee Year of Mercy!

The actual word ‘mercy’ only appears nine times in the NRSV translation of Luke’s gospel, but it manifests itself repeatedly in Jesus’ encounters, especially with the sick, the poor and the marginalized, and in the challenging parables he tells. Scripture scholars are in wide agreement that the words that best summarize Jesus’ mission in Luke’s gospel are his words to Zacchaeus the tax collector: 'For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.' (Lk 19:10)

The author of this gospel gives a number of accounts of Jesus acting with compassion and forgiveness which are not found in the other gospels. Among these are the mercy Jesus shows to the grieving widow of Nain by restoring life to her only son (cf. Lk 7), his encounter with Zacchaeus the despised tax collector, his healing of the woman severely crippled for 18 years (Lk. 13), and the healing of the 10 lepers of whom only one - a Samaritan - returns to give thanks (Lk. 17).

From these four accounts, the first and third are never heard on a Sunday, however they are included in week day gospels of Year C along with other beautiful stories of Jesus showing mercy, such as the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Lk. 8) and healing of the paralytic (Lk. 5).

Of the 28 parables that appear in the gospel of Luke, fifteen of them are unique to this gospel and are among the best known, such as the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (all in Lk.15), and the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10). Again, not all of Luke’s parables are heard on a Sunday.

In Pope Francis’ beautiful letter Misericordiae Vultus, written to prepare us for the coming Jubilee of Mercy, he quotes instances from both biblical Testaments that reveal 'the mercy of God ..not (as) an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child.' (M.V. #6)

Referring to Luke’s gospel, Francis says:
'The Evangelist reminds us of the teaching of Jesus who says, ‘Be merciful just as your Father is merciful’ (Lk. 6:36)… In order to be capable of mercy, therefore, we must first of all dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God. This means rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us. In this way, it will be possible to contemplate God’s mercy and adopt it as our lifestyle.' (M.V. #13)

This call to reflect on God’s word in silence resonates with the long-standing request in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for a time of silence to be observed in the Eucharist after the first and second readings and again after the homily, 'so that the Word of God may be grasped by the heart...'(GIRM #56)

As we begin a new liturgical year with the season of Advent, we need look no further than the beautiful yet challenging gospel of Luke as the foundation for prayer, both communal and private, in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Ilsa Neicinieks rsm
Office for Worship
Diocese of Adelaide South Australia

This article was first published in the November 2015 issue of The Southern Cross, the official publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide. Reprinted with permission 

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