How looks a society which is marked by mercy? How are looking relations among couples, family members or colleagues which are marked by mercy? How would you answer this question? You might mention elements like forgiveness, comprehension, concern for the other, benevolence. Often experience we the opposite: people who only look for our weak sides, who rip off them for their own advantage; people who are resentful and bossy, unable to forget or to open themselves.
But there is another side of mercilessness. I would like to name it the clean/even façade. How much energy do we spent to clean our facades? Our life, relations, job, condition and feelings have to appear perfect. No one shall see our wounds, the weak sides, failures or biographic fractures. We hide them and are great artists in doing it. Wrinkles and crinkles – signs of our history – become paint over and made up. It costs very much but many seem to be willed to pay this high price. They are perhaps afraid: afraid of the others that they may discover this sides and then start to speak bad about them, afraid of themselves that they meet themselves how they are. The result? Everyone pretends to have this wonderful façade, but no one knows the other’s ruin behind it, perhaps not even the own one. The pressure is high. We have to say that we are fine, that everything is good. And when we experience a difficult situation we don’t find a place of comprehension. If the others are so perfect, they won’t understand me. I feel ashamed that only I have these difficulties meanwhile the others are so successful. Every attempt to achieve someone slides on the clear façade. No comprehension, no mercy! We are masters in façade renovation and hide-and-seek and make thereby the world and our life so poor and merciless.
The risen Jesus is the opposite. When he appeared to his disciples did he show his wounds. They belong to him. He doesn’t hide the grooves of his suffering and struggling, his wounds which humans beat; the signs which make clear that he engaged with the world, that he didn’t stand apart. And even if his disciples didn’t recognize his risen appearance, did they however recognize him through his wounds. Jesus’ wounds became the recognition sign par excellence.
These wounds are part of the most intimate cognition they can achieve. They have an own language the disciples intuitively understand. Bernhard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian monk of the 12th century said: Jesus’ wounds are the places where the birds can build their nests. They are a place of rest and comprehension, a place of security and confidence. They show Jesus’ openness for all humans, for their weakness and suffering, for their cries and despair. The letter to the Hebrews expresses it like this: “In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebr 5:7-9). Jesus “learned” obedience and mercy through his suffering and he – unlike us – doesn’t hide it. He uses his “experiences” for giving us a clear signal: I understand you and want to heal you! “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). His wounds are showing the way to his heart, to a heart which let touch itself.
It may be because of this that so many people receive consolation when they look up to the cross. They understand deeply: there is a place for my dark side, an understanding and healing heart, a nest where I can rest; there is place for my questions and doubts like Thomas experienced it; a place for confidence and hope because these wounds became transfigured – transfigured, not deleted.
I wish that we as Jesus’ fellows risk a bit of this wounded openness. Don’t let us invest all our energy in façade renovation. And, I’m sure; if we follow the wounded and risen Jesus like this the world becomes more merciful.
Dominik Terstriep S.J.