Cardinal Walter Casper of Germany is the former head of the Vatican’s Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A respected theologian and bishop, Cardinal Casper wrote the acclaimed book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian life. In an interview about the book shortly after its publication in 2014, Cardinal Casper said, “Start with the Latin term misericordia which means mercy. Misericordia means having a heart for the poor. Poor in a large sense. Not only material poverty, but also relational poverty, spiritual poverty, cultural poverty, and so on. This is not only heart, not only emotion, but also an active attitude. I have to be willing to change the situation of others as much as I can.”
But mercy is also not opposed to justice. Justice is a minimum that we are obliged to do to others to respect that person’s human dignity. To give that person what that person must have. But mercy is the maximum. It goes beyond justice. Justice alone can be very cold. Mercy sees a concrete person.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is the person the Samaritan meets on the street. He is not obliged to help. It’s not a question of justice. But the Samaritan goes beyond. He was moved in his heart. He bent down in the dirt and helped this man.
That’s mercy moved in his heart. That is what it means to follow Jesus.