The second reading for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Hebrews 4:14-16, continues directly from last week's second reading and confirms the point I made last week: that the fact that Jesus Christ knows our innermost thoughts and all of our deeds is a warning to amend our ways, surely, but also a comfort, not a threat, that the one who knows us most intimately judges with a full knowledge of our struggles and weaknesses and our desire to know him. Jesus, states Hebrews, is not "unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." Try to take that in: Jesus was tested in every way, just as we are, and yet because he is free of sin, we have a model of what the human life can be, and the model, to my mind, of the true counselor. Here is one who can sympathize, but also guide us perfectly in the direction we must go, how we must amend our ways, how we must grow for the Kingdom of God. The last line of this reading guides us to the counselor, gently but firmly. "So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help." Mercy in our minds can seem so distant when we consider our own failings and weaknesses, and when we reflect on the lack of mercy often shown in our own world, perhaps even by ourselves on occasion, but the author of Hebrews asks us to "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy." We should do it. Over and over.
For the mercy Jesus offers us as Lord is borne not just of his divinity, but this true humanity which was tested due to our transgressions and crushed for our sins, as Isaiah 53:10-11 attests. The first reading, a short portion of the "Suffering Servant Song" in Isaiah 52:13-53:12, speaks of Jesus' humanity offered for the sins of the world. If we take Jesus' humanity seriously, not as a sort of addendum to his divinity, we understand both the pain of his suffering on our behalf, but also of the mercy which he feels for all of his brothers and sisters who sway under the weight of sin, who groan with the burdens of lost hope. He wants to offer us mercy.
Even the Twelve, hand-picked by Jesus, constantly stumbled under the weight of their humanity, thinking not in terms of God's mercy, but of their glory. In Mark 10:35-45, James and John come to ask Jesus for a share of his glory, a precise share for that matter, namely, to sit at his right and at his left hand in glory. Keep in mind that in Mark's structure this passage follows right after the third Passion Prediction - the other two occurring in chapters 8 and 9 - when Jesus has told his followers that he must suffer and die before being raised up. James and John, having been witnesses to Jesus' Transfiguration described in Mark 9:2-8, seem to want to skip the suffering and move straight to the glory. It is an attractive option, but one Jesus eschews.His suffering will be a "ransom for many," his life offered on behalf of a world ensnared in sin. Yet, he also counsels the Apostles to be prepared to accept suffering and servanthood as a part of their life of leadership. This is why mercy is not just offered by God to us, but must be offered by his followers, by us, both through the institutional Church and by individual Christians to all those in need. We share in God's mercy, we struggle to walk the path which Jesus walked, and so we are prepared to offer Christ's mercy to all those in need, encouraging all to "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy."