God's Mercy looks not at our past but looks to our future and potential

Homily for Wednesday Week 4 of Lent

by Fr. Tommy Lane

If we take a fresh new $100 bill and fold it up and crumple it and then open it out again what does it look like? It is a mess and is wrinkled. Is it worth $1 now, or $5, or $10? No, it is still a $100 bill and has the value and potential of a $100 bill. When we get crumpled through sin we get into a mess but we still have the same value and potential in the eyes of God.

It is interesting that one of the words in Hebrew for “have mercy” רָחַם comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for “womb.” “Mercy” and “womb” are somehow interrelated in Hebrew and also in Akkadian. Why might this be? 

  1. For scholars the connection may a bit of a mystery but when we think of womb we can imagine motherly love, motherly care and it does not take us too long to think of mothers being merciful.

  2. We can also think of the mother’s womb nourishing the child because that child has value and potential. That child will grow. In the womb the child has not yet reached its full potential. The mother’s womb is preparing the child for the future and God’s mercy does hold one locked into the past but looks to the future.

Twice in our first reading from Isaiah today the verb רָחַם is used to describe God’s mercy

He who pities them leads them (Isa 49:10)
The Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to the afflicted (Isa 49:13)

To convey in English that the Hebrew word “womb” comes from the same root as the word “mercy” you might want to translate those verses as

He who wombs them leads them (Isa 49:10)
The Lord comforts his people and wombs the afflicted (Isa 49:13)

When God forgives he does not look at the past but looks to the future and our potential just as the mother’s womb is nourishing the child and preparing the child for the future. No wonder therefore that the description of God’s love which we heard in our first reading, and is probably the most beautiful depiction of God’s love in the Old Testament, uses a motherly image,

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isa 49:15)

The prophet Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40-55) is ministering to the Jews exiled in Babylon who were wondering if God had forgotten them, and Jerusalem also questioned as we heard in our reading,

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” (Isa 49:14)

So the Lord responds,

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. (Isa 49:15)

The word in Hebrew עוּל that is translated as “infant” is more accurately translated as “suckling child.” It shows our dependence on God just as a suckling child is dependent on its mother. It was sin that brought the exile on the Jews but God did not forget them and their dependence on him and in our reading he promised to restore them. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem they were different, they had matured. They no longer ran after idols as they had done before the exile.

When we sin, no matter how crumpled we become, God’s mercy awaits us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Like a mother’s womb nourishing a child and preparing it for the future, when God forgives he does not lock us into our past but knows our value and potential and looks to our future. Just as the Jews matured in the exile and no longer went after idols afterwards, we too can mature during the suffering we bring on ourselves through sin and once we are forgiven no longer go after idols.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2007

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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