Pope Francis has announced a Year of Mercy that began last Tuesday, December 8th . The Holy Father has asked that it be a church-wide celebration and reflection on God’s mercy, so that we can intentionally be sources of that Mercy in the world.
The logo of the celebration comes from Luke 6:36, “Be merciful as the Father is merciful,” that appears alongside an image that deserves some inspection and reflection. The logo is oddly shaped – rather looking like an almond. The almond shape, called a mandorla, was a feature of early and medieval iconography. When used with the image of Christ, it invites the viewer to reflect on the two natures of Christ, divine and human. The differing color bands of blue, increasingly darker as one moves inward is also a recurring theme in these icons. It reflects what is called the “apophatic way” on reflecting on God. In the apophatic way, it acknowledges that there is mystery at the center of the way – a mystery that is, in the end, impenetrable, but nonetheless calls us ever inward in reflection. At the center of the darkest color, where Jesus’ feet are positioned, is the great mystery of the Incarnation – that in the person of Jesus, humanity and divinity are joined: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The logo also shows Jesus carrying a man on his shoulders. Some suggest that this is Jesus as the Good Shepherd. When Jesus finds his lost sheep, “he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:5-6) But I would offer another parable as a means to reflect on the logo – the parable of the Good Samaritan. There was a certain man who is robbed, beaten, and left in a ditch. The first two travelers see the man and cross the road to avoid the man. But the Samaritan stops to help the victim. Jesus asks the listener: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
If you continue to reflect upon the logo, another striking feature emerges: it seems as though Jesus and the man (over his shoulders) are sharing one eye. It turns out such was the artist’s intention. Think about it. It says that, in his great mercy, as the Good Shepherd takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of man and woman. Christ sees with our eyes so that we might be able to see with His. He lives our life, feels with our senses, and sees with our eyes that each of us might discover in Christ the true calling of our own humanity. Also, in this shared vision, we see the future that lies ahead: the love of the Father. We get to have our eyes on the prize, even as we see what Christ sees in the world.
In today’s Gospel, The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” Just like in the logo of the Year of Mercy, I think God is inviting us to look around and see each other, those in our community we know and those we don’t. The ones no one notices; not just to see them but to gaze upon them with the eyes of Mercy.