The theme running through the prayers and readings today is the theme of mercy. The mercy of God is offered to us, we are called to experience it. The Penitential Rite during every Mass gives us a time when we can do that within the community — we reply, ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy’, together as a community conscious of our need for that mercy individually and also as a people united in Christ. Twice in the Gloria we pray together: ‘have mercy on us’.
In the reading from the book of Exodus today, the Israelites have turned from God, making and worshipping a golden calf. God says to Moses ‘Leave me now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; you, however, will make a great nation’. Moses pleads for the people, referring to the promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and God relents and does not bring disaster on his people. He responds with mercy.
The first stanza of the psalm begins “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offence.” The psalmist brings his troubles, his offence before the Lord calling on God’s mercy and acknowledging that God is compassionate. In the last stanza we see the psalmist refer to sacrifice. It isn’t a ‘golden calf? but ‘a contrite spirit; a humbled contrite heart you will not spurn’.
We need to be humble of heart, ready to ask for God’s mercy and receive his forgiveness. St. Paul in the second reading says — ‘here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ Sin is a word that is not very widely used in modern culture. In the secular, relativistic world, the approach is often ‘if something is right for me then it is right’ irrespective of the consequences of their actions. It is only when people recognise a truth outside of themselves, a ‘right’ that may be contrary to their wants, do they recognise their need for mercy and compassion.