|04 - Become Merciful As Is Your Father, Sept 29, 2013|
II Corinthians 1:21-2:4
Our Savior sums up the meaning of His words to us in this morning’s Gospel by saying: “Become merciful (it says in the Greek) even as your Father is merciful.” That is to say, you are not merciful as God the Father is; but, by practicing these precepts, you may become merciful as your Father is merciful.
God is merciful, for He alone truly is. God is love, says St John the Evangelist, because He alone, as St Maximus the Confessor has said somewhere, can truly be said “to be”. This tells us that being in its essence is merciful. Truly to be, truly to live is to love those who hate you, to do good to those who spite you, is to give to those who can’t return your gift.
This tells us that when we love only those who love us and hate those who hate us, when we do good only to those who do good to us and return evil for evil, when we give only to those who can return the gift, with interest, if we are not merciful, we are not truly living. St Paul would say that even though we have the appearance of being alive, we are nonetheless dead in our spirit because we walk, we live “according to this worldly age, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that even now is active in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 2:1-2).
There was a time when we were not. That is why we cannot say we truly are. God is. There never was a “time” when He was not. He is Being itself and the source of being. He is Life itself, and the source of Life. That is why He alone can be said truly to be, truly to exist, truly to live. Apart from Him, as St John the Evangelist says, there is nothing that exists. Apart from Him, nothing has come to be. (Jn 1:3)
Man was created in the image and likeness of God. That means that he was like God in every respect. God is good, and man was good like God. God is merciful and compassionate, and man was merciful and compassionate like God. God is love, and so man was love like God. Man was good, merciful, compassionate and loving in God, not in himself, for man was raised into existence from the dust of the ground and fashioned in the image and likeness of God; and so man has the capacity for goodness and mercy. He has the natural capacity to receive and to live in the very goodness and mercy of God; and so, man is truly what he is by nature only when he is in God, only when he is partaking of the divine nature, only when he is living in the uncreated virtues and glory of God, only when it is Christ God Himself who lives in him.
We see this in the tragedy of the Fall. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they separated themselves from God. They were no longer in God. Outside of God, Adam and Eve separated from each other. They who had been lovers became enemies, each accusing the other. Separated from God, they gave birth to Cain and Abel, a murderer and the murdered, which is the very antithesis of God’s being, the very opposite ofgoodness, mercy, compassion, and love. So began the history of the world, and so it has continued in every age and generation since.
This is the world that you and I were born into; it is a world governed by the spirit of anti-Christ that is active in all the sons and daughters of disobedience. It is a world of darkness, of murder, of self-interest, of greed, and all manner of perversity, corruption, and infirmities, maladies and disorders of body and soul of every kind. Yet, the image of God that we are cannot be eradicated. If it were, we would no longer exist at all. And so, every now and then we are good, merciful, compassionate and loving; but we cannot say that we are in our very essence good or merciful or compassionate or loving, like God is, because often we are not. And we are not because we are fallen, we are sinners, we do not live in God; we live in the world.
In this, we have fallen not only from God but also from our own nature. We are not truly what we are supposed to be: like God. Our holy Tradition refers to sin as that which is against our nature. We sin, we are sinners. That means that we exist in a state that is against our nature. We are in conflict with ourselves. We are fragmented, cut off even from ourselves. Because we exist and live in this unnatural condition, we are prone to all kinds of sicknesses and diseases of body and soul.
This is the world that you and I were born into. It is a world that we have created, making it to look and to exist like us who have been cut off from God; dark, perverse, disordered, full of conflict and enmity, wars and rumors of wars, poverty and want of every kind. And, it is the world that Our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to come out of.
In the Church, the movement of time has been transformed into an Exodus out of this world of darkness and death to the Kingdom of Light and Life for those who receive Christ in faith and who take up their cross to follow Him. We celebrated the New Year of the Church as the New Creation of the New Age that God has sown like a seed in the wilderness of this world. On the eighth day of the New Year, while the rest of the world went about its business as usual, the faithful celebrated with joy the Nativity of the Theotokos. Her birth proclaims the dawning in this world of the mystery of Resurrection, of healing, of illumination, of the very life and being of God who is just below the eastern horizon, who is preparing to become flesh and dwell among us; for, His Holy Mother is born! On the seventh day, in the joy of the Resurrection that dawns for us in the Nativity of His Holy Mother, we take up our Cross in the fear of God, with faith and love, in response to the call of Him who is Himself the Light of the world, the Resurrection and the Life: “Let whoever would be my disciple deny himself,” He calls out to us, “and let him take up his cross, and follow Me,” to Life eternal and to His Kingdom of Light in the Glory of the Father that He has with the Father from before the foundation of the world, and with which He wants to clothe us as with a garment.
On the next Sunday, we heard the Lord command Simon Peter, James and John and all those “who would be His disciples,” to “launch out into the deep,” and to “cast their nets for a catch.” Go into your soul and catch your heart, your inner man,and draw it into the boat of the Church – which is the very body of Christ, the New Adam, the New Age, the Resurrection and the Life – and acquire the Holy Spirit. And now, this morning, those who have resolved to take up their cross and follow Christ hear Him giving them this command: “Become merciful as your Father is merciful.”
This, to become merciful, is the work of taking up our cross. To do the work of becoming merciful requires us to deny the spirit of disobedience that is active in us (cf. Rm 7) and to obey the commandments of Christ Our Savior. It is through obedience to Christ, doing what He tells us to do in His holy Church, that we will become merciful as God, our Father in the Lord Jesus Christ, is merciful. That is to say, we don’t fast for the sake of fasting; we don’t pray for the sake of praying; we don’t give alms for the sake of giving alms. We do these ascetic disciplines of the Church for this one purpose: to unite ourselves to Christ and to become merciful as our Father is merciful. By taking up the ascetic disciplines of the Church, these flowers of abstinence that grow from the wood of the Cross, we deny ourselves and unite ourselves to Christ, the Flower brought forth by the wood of the Cross, in the likeness of His death; and He, not we, creates in us a clean heart. He, not we, puts in us a new and right spirit, and we are restored to spiritual health and wholeness, we are raised to life in God, we are transfigured in our soul from darkness to light because in our union with Christ, we are becoming like God: in the love and joy of thanksgiving to God, we become merciful, and compassionate like God. This is the fruit that is brought forth from the wood of our soul as we deny ourselves and take up our Cross and follow Christ because in Christ, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen.