Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Merciful Like the Father

God’s mercy is much greater than any bad thing we’ve ever done. We are called to be merciful to others like our heavenly Father is merciful to us.
If God really loves us unconditionally then Hell should be an empty place. But if God is truly just, then everyone should ultimately get what’s coming due. So which is it?

The answer can be found in the Gospel of Saint Luke. It is the Gospel we will hear for most of this Jubilee Year of Mercy. In it we are confronted with these powerful images: Jesus asking forgiveness for those who crucified him; Jesus assuring the thief, hanging on the next cross, that he will be joining him in heaven; Jesus calling his followers to forgive their neighbors an endless number of times.

And we also find these images: a loving father running to embrace his prodigal son; a good shepherd leaving his flock to look for one little lost sheep; a compassionate vineyard owner paying 11th hour day-workers a full day’s wage.

But these images can be difficult to accept. How can God be both the just God revealed by Moses in the Old Testament, and at the same time the forgiving and merciful God revealed by the Gospel? With these images the Gospel is telling us that God’s justice is not our justice.

Saint Luke is using these images to teach us a great lesson: that God never gives up on us; and that, with God, it’s never too late to go home.

If there really is a geographical place called Hell, I think it must be hard to get there: a person would have to know and feel in the depths of their being how very much they were loved by God, and then choose to turn their back and walk away from that love for all eternity. I can’t imagine too many people doing that.

Perhaps when we sit down to our first meal in heaven, we will be stunned to see who else is around the table. Wouldn’t that be a shocker! But even God couldn’t be that forgiving, that merciful — or could he? And could he really expect you and me to be?

God’s unconditional love, like so much of the reality of God, is a mystery. But it’s God’s mystery, not ours. Love is of God; justice is of the world. If we loved each other the way God calls us to, there would be no need for human justice. And if we could feel how deeply we are loved by God, there would be no need for anyone to ask for our forgiveness.

This Lent as we sacrifice some little pleasures, some things we really enjoy, let us pray for the grace to open any closed chambers of our hearts. Let us offer not just one Year of Mercy, but a lifetime of forgiveness and mercy to all our sisters and brothers, without exception – even when it’s neither wanted nor reciprocated.

And let us offer mercy inwardly as well: let us make amends and forgive ourselves for any things we have done or failed to do that may have caused hurt and pain to others. Let us place any guilt we’ve been carrying into the loving hands of God.    

God’s mercy is much greater than any bad thing we’ve ever done. We are called to be merciful like our heavenly Father is merciful.

Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. Both are available on Amazon.com:

Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry