We see you, Lord, through mercy’s lens

*** The theme of this hymn is God’s sovereign mercy.


We see you, Lord, through mercy’s lens.midi


A heresy has dogged Christian-Jewish relations for two thousand years: that Christians have supplanted Jews in God’s favour, and that God’s covenant promises, given to the Jews through Abraham and Moses, have been superseded by the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ.

Paul, who was both Jew and Christian, asserted in forthright terms that God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable[1] He did not deny that Jews had betrayed God’s promises throughout their history, but he warned Gentile Christians against presuming to exercise God’s power of judgement. They were not to become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you[2].

But what is primarily at issue here is not humans falling short, but God’s mercy. Just as you (Gentile Christians) were once disobedient to God and have now received mercy because of their (Jews) disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy[3]. This conviction, and not supersessionism, is what provides Christians with a proper lens through which to view Jews.

The conviction of divine mercy is worked out as a ruling theme through Scripture. It is seen in the story of Joseph assuring his dismayed brothers that God sent me before you to preserve life…[4]. As Elizabeth Achtemeier summarises it:

God uses the minds and emotions of the various characters to further his purpose: the bragging of the adolescent Joseph, the hatred of the brothers, the perfidy of Potiphar’s wife, the forgetfulness of the chief butler, the insight of the pharaoh, the anguish of Jacob, and the guilt of the brothers.[5]

The story of Joseph and his brothers is echoed in verses two and three of the hymn. Verse four and the first couplet of verse six are about the discarding of stereotyped views of others, instanced wonderfully in the story of Jesus allowing his prejudices about Gentile women to be broken down by a Gentile woman[6].

All three texts tell of spiritual struggles to break free of ancient prejudices. This hymn is pitched into the midst of those struggles. And it sets forth the conviction that ‘all our debts by Christ are paid…upon the cross (where) we see our creed.’

The music is closely based on a major theme from Act IV of Verdi’s opera La Forza del Destino. It is a tune that suggests a doleful fate, though there is a feeling that fate might be softened by an underlying order that ensures that tensions will be resolved. This melody was consciously chosen as a vehicle for working out the theological ideas in the hymn.

The first two lines of the melody are basically Verdi’s, while the third and fourth are newly composed. The fourth line hints at a familiar melodic figure from the music of Ashkenazi Jews.

The hymn would be best sung in unison; harmony singing would be rich in sound, but at the cost of slowing down the fitfully searching melody. For the same reason, the accompaniment is written as thinly as possible. Any accompanying instrument would be completely adequate, but, where they are available, an accordion and a cello would be ideal.

[1] Romans 11.2a, 29

[2] Romans 11.21

[3] Romans 11.30-31

[4] Genesis 45.5

[5] The Lectionary Commentary Ed: Roger E. Van Harn. London: Continuum. 2001. Vol 2 pp 113-116.

[6] Matthew 15.21-28