For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
My friends, these comforting words come to us this morning from the author to the Letter of the Hebrews. They underscore the dramatic and pivotal truth of our faith that Jesus is on the side of the weak and sinful, the broken and the marginal, the soul-sick and those who hunger for mercy and forgiveness.
One of the predominate themes that has characterized the pontificate of Pope Francis has been his constant reiteration on the pivotal aspect of God’s unfailing mercy in our lives. So important has that theme been that several years ago, he designated a Holy Year to focus our attention on this central aspect of our faith.
In the midst of the polarization that has often characterized our Church in these decades after the Second Vatican Council, it has been easy for some Catholics to obsesses on issues dealing with doctrinal purity and orthodoxy. Now, don’t get me wrong, while the content of our faith remains a critical aspect in shaping our belief, the danger with an obsession with doctrinal formulas is that it can obscure the essence of the Christian faith that is fundamentally a call to friendship – friendship with the Lord who calls each of us to drink deeply of his loving kindness and mercy.
The beautiful quote from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus in his humanity was not disengaged or somehow miraculously freed from the messiness of human existence. The Lord experienced loss, anger, feelings of disappointment, the warmth of human friendship, temptation and all that is a part of the human journey. The divine difference, of course, is that His will was perfectly in sync with that of His Heavenly Father. He knew in his heart of heart never to compromise or settle for something less than the mission entrusted to Him by His Heavenly Father.
My friends, while each of us is called to share in the fullness of divine life, we are all too aware that our journey to that goal is often filled with moments of compromise. We sadly lose sight of the mission entrusted to us in our baptism and are tempted to think we can get a better deal somewhere else. And so, like the prodigal son, in our shortsightedness we often lose ourselves in the dark alleys and dead ends of life. We experience the momentary high of the immediate gratification of envy, or anger or lust or whatever, only to experience, what St. Augustine so beautifully described when he said so many years ago, ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord.’
And so, we hear the encouraging words from Hebrews today – let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy…
My friends, God’s mercy, is not like ours that is often given in a measured and miserly way – only if it is earned. No, God’s mercy is pure and amazing grace, freely given to those who merely open their empty hands and longing hearts to receive it. No litmus test of perfection is required – it is especially there for those who know how far they may have wandered from the ‘throne of grace.’ That, brothers and sisters, is indeed, Good News!