Parish of St Matthew the Apostle,
Douglas, Isle of Man

Father Tom ponders …. The Quality of Mercy

Why do we find it so hard to forgive? Why are our newspapers quick to label people as demons of society and suggest that they be locked away for as long as possible? Why are politicians sure of getting votes if they talk tough?

Inside each one of us there’s that little child that comes into the room and says, ‘Mummy, Mary’s broken a cup.’ The implication is that she should be punished. It’s only as we get older that we are able to see ourselves in Mary’s place and to realise that we too are not perfect. We too can break cups as well as hearts.

Awareness of our own faults and failings makes us more sympathetic to other people. There but for the grace of God (and sometimes even despite it) go I. And it is this growing awareness of our own fragility that makes us able in adulthood to be more feeling towards others who stray. This feeling is what Christians call mercy.

Without mercy and forgiveness, we would be left only with cold and unfeeling justice. We would never have any room for manoeuvre because we would live in a tit-for-tat society that would create a mountain of revenge, resentment and unfinished business. Justice might be functional, but mercy and forgiveness are humanising; they proclaim a love greater than sin.

Christians believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is at the heart of Jesus’s message, so much so that his cure of the paralytic in Mark 2.1-12 is linked to the deepest cure of all: the forgiveness of his sins. And when people refuse to forgive it means that they are not prepared to accept their own fal­libility, for if they really knew how much God had forgiven them in their lives they would be unable to withhold forgiveness from others.

And that’s the nub of it. When I forgive someone else I am not being noble or magnanimous. Forgiveness is a never-ending gift that God has given me, and I am simply handing on the gift. Whenever I need it again, it will be there.

Wishing you a holy and rewarding Lent.

Fr Tom