It is striking how the Jesus Prayer (see previous post) is able to pack so much content into so short a form:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
Per-Olof Sjögren describes the prayer as “a summary of the whole gospel”, of “the whole content of the Bible”:
Besides being a direct prayer to Jesus it contains also teaching about him, about his work of redemption, his dignity as king, his deity, and his loving mercy. (The Jesus Prayer, p.17)
Bp Kallistos Ware reaches a similar conclusion in his book The Orthodox Way, where he devotes a couple of pages (pp.68f.) to looking at what the prayer “has to tell us about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and about our healing by and in him”. Ware describes the two “poles” or “extreme points” of the prayer as follows:
“Lord … Son of God”: the Prayer speaks first about God’s glory, acclaiming Jesus as the Lord of all creation and the eternal Son.
Then at its conclusion the Prayer turns to our condition as sinners – sinful by virtue of the fall, sinful through our own personal acts of wrongdoing: “… on me a sinner”
Thus “the Prayer beings with adoration and ends with penitence”. These “two extremes of divine glory and human sinfulness” are reconciled by three words describing Jesus and the good news he brings for sinners:
- Jesus: as Ware puts it, “this has the sense of Saviour; as the angel said to Christ’s foster-father St Joseph: ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins’.”
- Christ: this means the Anointed One, anointed by the Holy Spirit, the one whom the Jewish people awaited as “the coming deliverer, the future king, who in the power of the Spirit would set them free from their enemies”.
- Mercy: this word “signifies love in action”, writes Ware, who continues by observing that:
…to have mercy is to acquit the other of the guilt which by his own efforts he cannot wipe away, to release him from the debts he himself cannot pay, to make him whole from the sickness for which he cannot unaided find any cure. The term “mercy” means furthermore that all this is conferred as a free gift: the one who asks for mercy has no claims upon the other, no rights to which he can appeal.
Thus, within the space of 68 characters or fewer – short enough to be Twittered, with room to spare – the Jesus Prayer is able to summarise “both man’s problem and God’s solution”, namely the Jesus who is “the Saviour, the anointed king, the one who has mercy”.