Mercy Meets Misery

The hosannas quickly gave way to cries of, “crucify Him.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a triumphant king, but just five days later He was executed as a criminal. How quickly things changed. Things change quickly in our lives too. One minute we feel close to our Lord in prayer, and moments later, we fall into sin again. What are we to do? Where are we to go?

On Good Friday, mercy and misery collided on the cross when Jesus freely accepted the excruciating pain of crucifixion in an ultimate act of mercy to redeem our sins. God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn it. Jesus came in an act of mercy, so that all sinners might be saved through Him. (John 3:17)

Before His death, Jesus established His Church. He intended for it to be a field hospital for broken and wounded people. He wanted it to be a safe harbor for people weighed down by the misery of their own sinfulness. He longed for it to be a place where our misery could have a personal encounter with His mercy. Holy Week is an especially good time to reflect on these realities.

Last week we reflected on the Gospel story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. In her nakedness and shame, she was surrounded by an angry mob. She laid there in frightful misery. Because of her sin, she knew she was about to die a painful death. She expected the rocks to hit her at any minute. But then, everything changed.

She had an encounter with Jesus. John 8:7 tells us that Jesus spoke these words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” With a resounding thud, all of the rocks suddenly dropped to the ground, and everyone walked away. She was now all alone with Jesus. At this exact moment, misery came face to face with mercy. Saint Augustine coined a phrase to describe this moment. He referred to it as “misericordia et misera.” Roughly translated this means, “where mercy meets misery”.

Misericordia is the combination of two other Latin words: “miseriae,” meaning misery, and “cor” or “cordis” meaning heart. In other words, God’s mercy extends from His heart to comfort our misery and redeem our sins.

Jesus established His Church precisely so that sinners would have a place to encounter His mercy. He wants everyone to bring their misery to church. So why are some sinners afraid to go to church?

We find that answer in the Gospels. Two thousand years ago, the Pharisees loved to “widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.”  Said differently, their words and works were performed to draw attention to themselves. They were quick to point out the faults of others without showing a sense of mercy or compassion. They would tie up heavy burdens on others without lifting a finger to help, all the while, ignoring their own sinfulness.

I am not sure that things changed that much since then. In Luke 5:30 we read, “The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” We still hear similar things being said. To this very day, some Christians love to point out the sins and faults of others. They make sinners feel unwanted in the church. Too many Christians are quick to condemn those they see living in sin, while forgetting that they too are sinners. Hopefully we are not one of these people.

In Luke 5:31-32 we discover how Jesus felt about this. “Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” In Luke 19:10 Jesus states, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus saved some of His harshest rebukes for those who tried to prevent sinners from coming to Him. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings” (Matthew 23:13). “You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity” (Mathew 23:23).

We find ourselves now in the midst of Holy Week. Our attention is drawn to the Lord’s supper, the crucifixion, and of course to Jesus’ glorious resurrection. This week in particular all sinners should be made to feel welcome in church.

None of us, of course, wants to be pharisaical. We should ask ourselves this question: will we continue to make the church a safe place for sinners to gather, or will we, through our words and actions, make sinners feel unwelcomed? The church was never designed to be a fortress to protect the righteous from the sinners.

Jesus knows misery well; He has experienced it firsthand. This week, let’s bring our misery to church and lay it at the foot of the cross. Let’s invite someone to church with us. Let’s encourage them to also lay their misery down. Finally, let’s always make our churches a safe place for sinners to have an encounter with the mercy of Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the abundant mercy your Son Jesus showers on us. Help me to never be afraid to bring my sins to the cross. Help me always to encourage others to do the same. May His loving mercy always wash over my misery. Amen!


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Brian Pusateri
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