Someone recently read to me a chapter from a book, the particular passage being about mercy and how mercy is a necessary facet in our relationships with one another. It was a good chapter; practical, empirical, hands-on. And though the passage was devoid of any romantic tendencies, my poetically inclined intellect traveled to the memory of a scene from Victor Hugo’s novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

It is the scene where the hunchback, Quasimodo, is brought to a platform on the Place de Greve, bound with cords and straps to a wheel that displays him before the jeering crowds of Paris. An official begins to whip him, supposedly in condemnation for violence against the gypsy girl, Esmeralda. But as the punishment intensifies and the hostility of the crowd becomes more savage, it is evident that he is being punished for being an ugly, deaf man. Initially Quasimodo struggles against the chains that bind him, but he is helpless, and as time passes on he begins to groan one word, “Drink!” At this cry the crowd laughs, but the poor hunchback continues to repeat his pitiful request.

Enter the beautiful Esmeralda, whom Quasimodo recognizes as the girl he tried to carry off the previous night. She comes through the crowd, accompanied by her little goat Djali, climbs up the ladder of the platform, and puts a gourd of water to the lips of the wretch. A tear falls from the hunchback’s eye and he forgets to swallow. Esmeralda presses the gourd to his lips, and eventually he drinks, gulping to relieve his thirst. This amuses the crowd, and they begin to clap their hands and shout, “Noel! Noel!”

It is this picture that came to mind as I thought of mercy and what it means to be merciful. Mercy shows compassion to those who are ugly, it forgives those who have hurt us, it risks the scorn of others to help the helpless.

Consequently, as I thought on this, my mind raced on to another scene, another picture. I thought of the beautiful Christ reaching down to the ugly, stupid wretch of humanity and offering him water, living water, to quench his otherwise hopeless thirst. I think of this now, realizing that the only reason we show mercy is because He is merciful. And, like the crowd of Paris who exclaimed “Noel! Noel!” in reply to Esmeralda’s deed, I will sing noel this December as I consider my Saviour and the extraordinary mercy He has shown to me and to all those who believe in Him.

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