|05 - Become Merciful, Oct 3, 2010|
2 Corinthians 11:31-12:9
We find the teaching of mercy in all the high religions of the world. Since Jesus teaches mercy, too, many will accept Jesus as another of the world’s great teachers, or as a prophet, even a buddha, but they reject the Christian confession of Jesus as the only-begotten Son of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, apart from whom no one comes to the Father. Following from this, they accept the Christian Faith as one of the world’s high religions, but not as the one true religion.
Let us this morning, then, consider why the Christian Faith is the one true religion, especially if its teaching on mercy is like the religious teachings of all the world’s high religions.
Mercy and compassion express the “essence” of true religion; but they are not the “essence” of true religion. Here is a fine point that may be hard to grasp. Let’s use the example of a rose. The red color and fragrance of the rose are what the rose looks like and how it smells. They express the rose, but they are not the rose. The essence of the rose is, well, the rose itself. Analogously, mercy and compassion are what true religion looks like and feels like; but they are not the essence of true religion. The essence of true religion is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself.
The essence of true religion, that is to say, is who, not what. True religion is a personal mystery. If the essence of true religion were mercy and compassion, then the significance of Jesus would not be in who He is; but in the mercy and compassion, the what that He teaches. Jesus Himself, that is, is not significant; His teaching is significant. Jesus Himself you could take or leave as one of many other teachers teaching the same thing.
But, of course, what Jesus teaches is for the Christian significant because of who Jesus is. And any teaching on mercy and compassion is for the Christian true because of the Person of Jesus Christ whom mercy and compassion express, as the red color and rosy fragrance express not redness and rosy fragrance but the rose to which they belong and which they express.
This means that the essential principle of reality is not impersonal matter like energy, or even some abstract quality like mercy or compassion. The principle of reality is the Person of Jesus Himself, because everything was created in Him and for Him. Apart from Jesus Christ, so says St John, nothing exists. Or as St Dionysius whom we commemorate today says in one of his writings; Jesus Christ is the being of being, the life of life. This preaching and the teaching of the Gospel, the doctrine of the Christian Faith, reveals that the principle of the world is a personal mystery, not an impersonal abstraction or thing. And so, “to exist” or “to be” is to participate in the personal mystery of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is a doctrine that reveals the heart, the personal center of our being, as a gate facing the East that opens out beyond itself, beyond even the creation, onto the uncreated, personal reality of Jesus Christ. It reveals that what is in “the lotus of the heart”, if you will, is not a what, not some impersonal Atman, not some impersonal, cosmic energy, but an uncreated who, the divine Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is therefore the Truth, the personal principle of the world, to whom His own teaching and the teaching of other religious teachers, insofar as their teaching is true, bear witness.
Indeed, it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to see that mercy and compassion are essentially personal in character. They establish a fellowship between individuals that reveals in each of them a certain inherent dignity. They awaken and stir something already there in the soul that warms and softens the heart. They open the eyes of the mind to see oneself and the world in an altogether different light. I submit that this different light is the personal aura of that first light in which the world was made, and with which Christ clothes Himself as with a garment. I submit that what we see and smell in mercy and compassion is the personal character of the Person of Jesus Christ in whom the world was made. Mercy and compassion are the essential qualities that express the personal movement toward us of Jesus Christ as He seeks in His love for the world to penetrate all the way to our heart, to our personal center where we open out beyond ourselves onto the personal mystery of the uncreated God. They are the vibrations, if you will, of His call to us to wake up, to rise and to take up our cross in order to step onto the Way who in the mystery of His Holy Pascha descends into the human heart in order to open the gates that we might ascend with Him into the personal communion of the Holy Trinity and become in our union with Christ partakers of the divine nature, communicants of Life eternal, lovers of God.
The Christian Faith, then, is the one, true religion because it expresses the essence of true religion: Jesus Christ to whom every teaching that is true bears witness. There is no other Way to the Father because Jesus Christ alone is the only-begotten Son of the Father who became flesh and united earth to heaven, so that all who want to can unite themselves to Christ and become in Him partakers of the divine nature.
Jesus’ teaching, then, to become merciful even as our Father in Heaven is merciful, is calling us to our heart, to our personal center, to leave behind the false masks, to turn away from the feigned self with which we identify, and to become who we really are, images of God created in the Image of God, the Person of Jesus Christ, who live and move and have their being in the personal mystery of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God incarnate.
How do we do that? How do we take up our cross and answer the call of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Creator? By receiving and putting into practice the words of the Church’s teaching; for the words of the Church’s teaching are personal words. They come from the Person of the Word of God, and they unite us to Him. When we receive them, and when we do them, we are putting on Christ.
In this vision of the Church, calling it to mind again and again, don’t give in to the temptation to become slack in your prayer, or to be casual about the seasons of fasting, especially the inner fast – fasting with our minds, our eyes and ears and all our senses from worldly lusts and fantasies. Make yourselves mindful, every day, every hour and every minute of the work, both inner and outer, that is required of us if we are to become merciful as Our Lord Jesus Christ commands, if we are to clothe ourselves with Christ as with a garment. Understand that when you rise to stand before the icon to observe your rule of prayer, you are stepping into the mystical shower of the life-giving rain of Christ’s Holy Spirit. Each word of the prayers of the Church, coming as they do from the Word of God and permeated as they are with the Holy Spirit of God, are mystical drops of spiritual rain pouring forth from the tomb of Christ. As you say those words, they are falling all over you, making you wet with the Spirit. Knowing this in faith, work not just to say your prayers with your lips; work to say them with attention. Listen to the words of the prayer that you are saying; receive them and make them your own. As you say the words of the prayer, make yourself attentive to what you are really feeling, really desiring in your heart; and in this attentiveness, align your heart with the words of the prayer to make them your own, saying them as from your heart. When under the direction of the Church you fast, both the inner and the outer fast, don’t let your mind dwell on the discomfort of the fast, or on the pain of whatever passionate impulse or fantasy you are renouncing. Call your mind again and again to the remembrance that through the fast you are giving substance to your baptismal oath to unite yourself to Christ. You are making it real, incarnate; and, because you are sharing even if in a small way in the suffering of Christ, you also may be granted to share in His glory. Do the fast both inner and outer attentively; i.e., conscious of your desire to learn to love Christ and to share in the joy of His Resurrection. In mindfulness, check any impulse to be unmerciful in any way, and renounce it; fast from it. In faith, in prayer, choose mercy, remembering that in this you are choosing to walk the Way that is Christ Himself, and so you are clothing yourself with Christ; you are uniting yourself to Christ, as you swore it was your desire to do in your baptism.
The more we dedicate our whole life to this work of the Christian Faith every day, every hour, every moment, the more we immerse ourselves in the mystical life-giving waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit. The waters of our baptism made our bodies wet. So also, the mystical waters of the Church’s ascetic disciplines make our souls wet with the Holy Spirit, until finally those waters reach our heart. That may be when we experience the mystical cleansing of the Holy Spirit that the saints and the Psalmist speak of: the purging with hyssop, the cleansing that makes us whiter than snow, the birth of a new heart and a right spirit. That may be when the stone is rolled away from our hearts and we are raised up in the love of the crucified and risen Christ, the Only Lover of Mankind, to find that we have become merciful like the Father. And now we become the personal expressions of the Person of Jesus Christ, the principle, the Lord and Savior of the world. Amen.