by Emil Anton
ROME — The Lay Centre’s six-week faith formation series “Mercy Beyond Boundaries” came to a close March 17.
The two last lectures in the six-week series were given by Dr Lejla Demiri, a professor of Islamic Theology from the University of Tübingen, Germany.
Drawing from several Islamic sources, such as the Koran, the Hadith, and great Islamic scholars and mystics such as Al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) and Ibn Arabi (d. 1240), Dr Demiri spoke in her first lecture of how God’s mercy is understood to precede and prevail over His wrath. God has “prescribed mercy for himself”; his mercy extends to all things.
In her second lecture, Dr Demiri elaborated on the views of Abd Al-Ghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1731) who in his theological work wrote on the possibility of salvation for the “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians), as well as unbelievers.
Dr Yair Zakovich, a professor from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, gave the third and fourth lectures of the series on mercy in Judaism. Watch the video of his first lecture here.
Stressing the difficulty of translating the riches of Biblical Hebrew, he explained the etymology of the Hebrew terms used to denote mercy, above all, that of “rahamim,” which is derived from the word “rehem,” which means “womb”).
Professor Zakovich also said God seems to become more merciful as the Bible progresses.
“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” (Ex 34:6) is quoted many times in other books of the Hebrew Bible, he noted, but without reference to God’s wrath and punishment. He noted this to be true in Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2. He said from a literary perspective, the Bible seems to tell of how God is learning to control his anger, which can serve as an ethical model for people.
Professor Zakovich’s subsequent lecture concentrated on the book of Jonah. He emphasized that prophets are “double agents” of sorts, delivering a message from God to his people, but also representing the people to God and interceding for them. God wants his prophets to speak to him on behalf of the people, he said.
Professor Zakovich also demonstrated the interconnectedness of the book of Jonah with many other stories in the Hebrew Bible.
The first two lectures in the series focused on mercy in Christianity and were offered by Jesuit Father Felix Körner.
Donna Orsuto, the director of The Lay Centre, expressed her satisfaction with the series and said she could not have dreamed of such a program 30 years ago, when The Lay Centre was founded. She said she received the success of the lecture series as a gracious present from the merciful God.
(The biblical citation is from the New American Bible.)