Writers of the Gospels recorded, in more than one place, a prayer that is short, simple, and to the point.
“Jesus, have mercy on me.” Our days are busy, crammed with responsibilities, activities, and deadlines, but all of us have five seconds to pray, at any point in the day, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Stuck in traffic on the way to a doctor’s appointment, you can curse the delay, or exclaim, “Lord, have mercy!” Overwhelmed with chores or homework: “Lord, have mercy!” In need of healing, strength, or direction: “Lord, have mercy!” Take your cue from St. Mark’s gospel account of Bartimaeus:
And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-51)
Bartimaeus didn’t hesitate to call out to Jesus for help. However, unlike many of the other beggars of his day, he wasn’t asking for food or money but for something far more difficult: he wanted his sight restored (Mark 10:47-48, 51).
Along with the ten lepers who cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13), and the tax collector who pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (18:13), Bartimaeus’ humble and persistent cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” forms the core of an ancient prayer called the “Jesus Prayer.”
One of the greatest treasures of Eastern Christianity, this prayer is described in the Russian book The Way of a Pilgrim. The book tells the story of a man who wanted to learn how to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In his efforts, the man learned of a simple prayer he could repeat over and over, even as he went about his day: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The man discovered that this prayer had been the foundation of an entire spirituality and the gateway to conversion and holiness for thousands of people.
Busy as we are with our families, our work, and our everyday responsibilities, the Jesus Prayer can be a lifesaver for us as well. Think about it: in these few simple words, we are making a perfect profession of faith, for it sums up the essentials about what we know and believe about the Lord. As we pray this prayer with our hearts and minds, we are confessing our own sinfulness, we are crying out for God’s mercy, and we are opening ourselves to his direct intervention in our lives.
Life can be very hectic at times. There are days when all we need is one minor catastrophe to rob us of our peace. But if we practice keeping this little prayer always running in the back of our minds, we will find—as countless others have—Jesus sustaining us and giving us his hope and peace.