The text below is a wonderful homily by Fr. David Moser explaining, on the basis of today's scripture readings, why "Lord, have mercy!" is the essential Christian prayer.
1 Timothy 1:15-17
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief … for this reason I obtained mercy”
What a remarkable saying this is. Christ Jesus, the God/man, God incarnate, the Creator of all that is has come into this world which He created to save … me. God, Who is above all things has compassion on me and so for my sake He took flesh, was born of a Virgin, lived, suffered and died so that I might not perish. No amount of self-esteem or self-worth could match the value and worth that God has placed upon me. For this reason I call out, like the blind man, “Lord have mercy on me” believing that He will indeed hear my cry and come to help me. And this remarkable saying does not apply only to me, but to each one of us. Our Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world for each one of us – for every single man and woman who has ever been born or who ever will be born in this world. Jesus has come to you.
Having heard, as did the blind man that Jesus has come to us, we then cry out to Him to get His attention so that He is sure not to pass by but to come and help us. The blind man, hearing that it was Jesus who passed by, began to cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” and even when others tried to get him to be silent, he cried out all the more, “have mercy on me.” And Jesus heard him and came to him. Therefore having heard that Jesus has come to us, we imitate the blind man crying out, “Lord have mercy on me.”
From this blind man, we learn how to pray. So many things could this blind man have said to Jesus, but only one thing he asked for – mercy. That was all he needed, and indeed it is all that we need. There is nothing else that we need from God except mercy. When we pray, that is our most common prayer, “Lord have mercy” and that is because it is the most basic, most urgent, most necessary prayer that we have.
When we say “Lord have mercy” what do we mean? These three words encompass so much, and yet they are so simple. When we say Lord have mercy, first of all we confess our need, we confess that we are not self sufficient, we confess that without Jesus Christ we are missing something vital that only He can provide. We confess our weakness, we confess our deficiency, we confess our helplessness. This is the very thing that attracts our God to us – when we set aside our own sinful self sufficiency and instead put all our hope in Him.
Also in the cry of “Lord have mercy” we also confess our trust that Jesus Christ is the One Who can help us, Who can fulfill our deficiencies and Who can make us whole. It would be useless for us to ask help from someone who was unable to help us. No matter how much we asked and no matter how much that other one might want to help, if they were unable, it would be useless. But in calling out to Jesus Christ for mercy, we confess that He is the One Who can help us and we put our hope and trust in Him.
Notice that the prayer, “Lord have mercy” is wonderfully indefinite. When we use this prayer we not only say that we are needy, but we also say that we do not know what our need truly is. In calling out to Jesus Christ to “have mercy” we trust that He will know our need even better than we might know it ourselves. When we pray, we do not tell God what to do as though he were a servant or an employee, but we simply put ourselves into His care, trusting that He will know what we need, even better than we do ourselves.
But then don’t we also ask God for specific things when we pray – we ask for peace, forgiveness, health, and any number personal needs. How then is it that we trust God to know our needs, but at the same time tell him what we want from Him? Here we see the second part of the Gospel coming into play. Having heard his cry for mercy, Jesus came to the blind man and asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He asks us this not because He does not know our need, but rather it is important to Him for us to name our desires. It is important for us to do this for in naming our desire, we then reveal it and give it substance. When our desires remain unnamed, they remain insubstantial and undefined and thus can change and affect us in many ways. They can hide from us and even appear not as something that is a deficit but rather can become a source of pride. So when we name them, we place them in full view of both Jesus Christ (who has already seen them in the depths of our hearts) but also we have brought them out into our view so that we can see them clearly ourselves. Then we can let go of them and place them into the hands of Christ.
Consider then how this will affect our prayer. We stand before our Lord and He asks us, “What do you want?” At this point we pour out before Him all of our needs, all of our desires, all of our hopes. By naming each one it is as if we take it from our soul and set it at his feet offering it to him. And He takes our needs and desires and hopes to Himself and gives us in return the one thing that we need – mercy. Having taken all of our burden onto Himself He then fulfills our desire in the way that He knows will best help us. And we, having expressed already our trust in His all knowing, all wise compassion, now have confidence that He will give us that which is necessary in the way that which is most effective for the fulfilling of our needs and desires.
This then is how we should pray. We first cry out “Lord have mercy” acknowledging our own helplessness and weakness. Then as we stand before the Lord, we tell Him everything that is on our hearts, every need, every weakness, every frustration, every sorrow, every joy, every desire, every hope and dream. We tell Him everything and in doing so we set all of the contents of our heart at His feet. Then having given it all to Him, we return to our first prayer saying only “Lord have mercy”. In this we say, as it were, “Here is all that I need and want and hope. I give it to you. I don’t know how to accomplish these things, I don’t know how to fulfill my needs, I don’t know what is good for me and what will harm me. I don’t know – but you do. And so I give this to You, O Lord, and trust that You will sort through all of this and provide what I need in the way that I need it. I release all of this into your hands believing that you will not withhold from me any good thing and that having asked for bread you will not give to me a stone.” We say “Lord have mercy” and in so doing we put all of our needs and desires and hopes into the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ. We let go of these things, and no longer are we responsible for providing these things for ourselves, but we can trust that He will take care of these cares and concerns, these joys and sorrows, these wants and needs in the way that is best for our well being.
“Lord have mercy” – this is our basic prayer, in fact it is the only prayer that we need. Every other prayer that we say comes down to just this one prayer, “Lord have mercy” and with this prayer, Jesus Christ comes to us. When He comes He asks of us “What do you want” giving us the opportunity to lay every need, every care, every hope, every desire at His feet; we tell Him everything. With this prayer we offer it all to Him and He takes it from us, freeing us from the tyranny of providing for ourselves and we can rest in His care and His provision. We know that He will take what we offer and meet every need, fulfill every desire, resolve every care in Himself. All this we accomplish with the one simple prayer, “Lord have mercy”.