“Come now,” says the Lord, “let us talk this over together…” (Is. 1:18).
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, I welcome you to another season of our liturgical year; the season of Lent. May we be open to the Spirit of the Lord to change us during this season.
The season of Lent is coming early this year, it means that Easter will be early too. Lent is a time to evaluate our relationship with God and return to him if we have moved away from his friendship. In this whole process, God initiates our return to him by inviting us constantly to return to him. We will hear his voice during this season saying, ‘Come let us talk this over…’ We see immediately in this invitation, the mercy of God who wants his children to be where he is and not be lost forever.
This invitation was first given to the chosen people of God, Israel. They had enjoyed the favour of God (Deut. 7:7), but sinned against him and fell from greatness. Their fall brought all kinds of calamities to them including exile to Babylon. God, who is rich in mercy (Deut. 4:31), did not wait for them to begin to look for their way back to him. He rather, invites them to come and tap from his mercy.
On March 13, 2015, when the Holy Father, Pope Francis, announced the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, he emphasised that “It will be a Holy Year of Mercy.” Within this Year of Mercy, we celebrate at Lent the mercy of God. This mercy is available to all; it is available to you.
The mercy of God is great. The Psalmist observed the greatness of the mercies of God to his people and exclaimed, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever; with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 89:1). In the first account of sin in the scripture we see his mercy, when Adam and Eve who had been blessed and placed in the garden by God sinned against him (Gn. 3:1-13). Though their sin brought a separation and indeed every sin brings about separation between us and God. Yet, God did not abandon them in his judgement. He provided another means for them to survive and began the plan to save man. When the sin of man was so great and deserved to be wiped out of the face of the earth (Gn. 6:5-7), God showed mercy. He did not wipe out man, but purified the earth through the great flood, while Noah and his family were saved and through them, God established man once again on the face of the earth.
The mercy of God is ever there for us. Each time we pick up the parable of the Prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32), we contemplate the mercy of God. Very importantly, it is evident from the story that the Father in the story did not show mercy to his son upon his return. His mercy had already been given. The son had practiced what to tell his father, “Father I have sinned against God and before you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me then as one of your hired servant” (Lk. 15:18-19). But while he was still long way off, Luke says his father caught sight of him while still a long way (Lk. 15:20) because he has been waiting for his return. And he did not allow the boy to finish what he had practise to say but turned to his servants requesting that the finest robe be given the boy and a feast was to be prepared. The mercy has been long given because it has always been there. God’s mercy is ever there for us. All we need do is to move to tap from it. That movement or shift of grounds that is required is what is called repentance. When we make that movement, when we shift grounds, we will always meet the mercy of God because his mercy is ever there.
The mercy of God is for all. No one is exempted from the mercy of God. That is one of the things the story of Jonah set out to prove. The Jews had felt they had a monopoly of Yahweh, God. But when the Ninevites heard the message of God, they repented and met the mercy of God (Jon. 3:10). Jonah was disappointed but learnt his lesson that the mercy of God is for all. Never conceive in your mind that you are outside the mercy of God. No matter how much you have sinned; no matter how long you have been in a sinful state; no matter how badly you have done. The mercy of God is for you.
And he says to you this Lent, ‘Come let us talk this over…’ The Lord wants to talk it over with you; he wants you to benefit from his mercy. Return to him this Lent and you shall be glad you did. I wish you God’s grace this Lenten season 2016. May God turn your heart to him and grant you his mercy. God bless you.
Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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