At the centre of the message of Jesus is the message of God as Abba – Father. I would like to remember the very beautiful parable of the Prodigal Son which should, instead, be called the parable of the merciful father (cf. Lk 15:11-32). The parable is moving: the father is waiting for his son and goes to him, he embraces him and he restores to his prodigal son all his rights as his son. God came to us in particular through the mission of His only Son who lowered himself and became man unto death on the cross (cf. Phil. 2:5-11). The crucified Christ is the concrete image of the mercy of God. One may also remember the parable of the Good Samaritan which also became proverbial outside the Christian and Church worlds (cf. Lk 10:25-7). This parable demonstrates an inversion and a conversion of outlook, a real paradigm change. To the question ‘who is my neighbour?’, Jesus does not reply with a deduction from high principles, but, rather, he imagines the situation of a man who is suffering and who cannot help himself, a man whom I find and I meet in the middle of the road.
This suffering man is the interpretation of the concrete will of God for me. When interpreting in a concrete way the will of God, it would be wrong to understand the message of the parable in the sense of a universal humanism. The parable illustrates the behaviour of Jesus who, for his part, is a manifestation of the behaviour of God and who could say of himself: ‘I am meek and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29).
In the end, Jesus sacrificed his own life ‘to redeem many’, that is to say for each one of us and for all of us (cf. Mk 10:45; 1 Tm 2:4). This vicarious death of Christ, whom we commemorate and who makes himself present every time that the Eucharist is celebrated, does not have only the meaning of solidarity with us; it is not only a moral reality. Indeed, social and moral needs are not the only needs that exist. The metaphysical need is deeper: the destiny of death, which poses in its depths the question about the meaning of our lives. Through sin we obtained death (cf. Gen 2:17; Rm 5:12). We cannot fee ourselves from death on our own. We are the prey of death; death is our destiny. Only God, who is the Lord of life and death, can come to our aid and free us from it. In Jesus, God Himself, through His Mercy, took our place. Because he was God, death had no dominion over him. Jesus Christ sacrificed his life so that we may live.
The justification of the sinner – the great subject of Luther and the Reformation which today is not well understood – means this: normally the guilty must be condemned to death, but we, thanks to the mercy of God, are condemned to life. We are absolved, freed from death and called to Christian freedom (cf. Gal 5:1). Thus the message of mercy touches the centre of theology and soteriology and – we can also say – it touches the centre of our human and Christian existence. In no human situation, not even in the situation of our death, can we fall deeper than the hands of merciful God. The Letter to the Ephesians captures all of this in the words: ‘God is full of mercy’ (Eph 2:4).