05 - Become Merciful as the Father, Sept 30, 2012

II Corinthians 6:16-7:1

Luke 6:31-36

“Become merciful just as your Father is merciful.” This little word, just as, takes us to our creation in God. In Genesis, we read: “And God said: Let us make man in our own Image and Likeness.” (Gn 1:26) In the essential principle of our nature, we already are just as the Father is, because we exist in His own image and likeness. So, why does the Lord say, “Become merciful just as your Father is merciful.” This word, become, refers to a process in which something changes over time to become what it was not before. If we were created merciful in the essential principle of our being, how is it that we become merciful?

Mercy is an essential quality of love. God is love. We are created in His image and likeness; so, we are created to be love in the essential principle of our nature. But, we are created in the image and likeness of God – not in the image of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes or the pride of life. The essential principle of our nature, then, is love not for the lusts of the flesh and the world, but for God.

Now, an essential quality of love is freedom. Love is freely given and freely received. Love does not, indeed cannot force itself on anyone; for, then it would be coercion or tyranny. It would not be love. (And so, the holy fathers say that there is one thing the almighty God cannot do: He cannot make us love Him. By the very nature of love, that is impossible.) So, God, because He is love, does not force us to love Him, and we, because we are love just as God is love, are free to love whatever we wish to love, even if we choose to love what is against the essential principle of our nature.

But, if we choose to love what is contrary to the essential principle of our nature, if we choose to love an idol such as money or fame or pleasure, we will, of course, suffer harm, even great harm, because we will have set ourselves against ourselves by what we have chosen to love.

Therefore, the Lord’s command, “become merciful just as the Father is merciful,” is not forcing us to do anything that we don’t want to do. Christ honors the freedom that is an essential principle of our nature. His command has the force of a call, an invitation, even an appeal, we might say, to our common sense, calling us to come to our senses, to wake up so that we will choose freely to repent, to take up our cross, so that we will live and not die. For, the prophet Ezekiel says: The Lord desires not the death of a sinner but that he turn from his wickedness and live. And as the prophet says in the Wisdom of Solomon: “God did not create death, nor does He have pleasure over the destruction of the living. For He created all things that they might exist, and the generations of the world so they might be preserved (and not dissolve); for there was no poison of death in them, nor was the reign of Hades on earth. For righteousness does not die.” (Wisd 1:24-25) “God created man for immortality, and made him an image of His own eternity.” (Wisd 2:23)

And yet, Christ’s invitation is even so a commandment. There is a sternness to it, because life and death are at stake; for how can we who were created in the love of God continue to live if we choose to live against ourselves, contrary to our nature, in the love of the flesh?

The Lord lays out for us the typical behavior of the love of the flesh: it does not love its enemies, it does not bless those who revile it but curses them and returns evil for evil, insult for insult. It gives only if it knows it will get back, with interest. In a word, it is not merciful at all but selfish and proud, loving only those who love it.

Brothers and sisters; it is critical that we lay aside every excuse, every mask, every pretense, and come clean. We must be honest with ourselves and confess our sin. As St John admonishes us (I Jn 1:9), if we do not confess our sin, or if we say that we have no sin, we lie and we make God a liar. In other words, we put ourselves at odds with ourselves, denying what we in fact are so that we remain sick and unhealed in our darkness. We close ourselves off, stubbornly, to the light of Christ that wants to cleanse us and heal us, and put us in alignment with the essential principle of our nature, so that we can live according to our nature and become merciful just as the Father is merciful. It is critical that we confess and acknowledge that our love is more like the love of the flesh than it is like the love of God. It is critical that we confess this rather than scurrying about trying to fix ourselves so that we can present ourselves to God as though we are whole and perfect. This is just another form of the worldly self-love of the flesh.

The fact is we cannot fix ourselves because by choosing to love the flesh and the world rather than God, we have died. In our soul, we are dead. We are spiritual corpses. We can no more love our enemies and do good to those who hate us than we can jump to the moon because this kind of mercy and love belong to those who are alive in God, not to those who are dead.

Only God can fix us and make us become merciful. But He can fix us only if we let Him. We are spiritually dead, but we still are in the image of God and we still have, as an essential principle of our nature, the freedom to receive Christ and to unite ourselves to Him, if we want to. That means, however, that we unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death on the Cross. For, it is by that death that Christ destroyed our death that followed from our choosing to love the flesh and not God.

We unite ourselves to Christ when we submit to Him in Holy Baptism. There, our death is put to death, and we are raised to life in the resurrection of Christ. We are born from above as children of God. We are aligned again with the essential principle of our nature and there stretches before us the “wilderness” of the remaining days of our life as our own personal path that leads to the Tree of Life, which we can now walk, if we want to, in the expectation of attaining to the fullness of the stature of Christ as perfect men and women (Eph 4:13) who will become merciful just as the Father is merciful.

So, how do we walk that path so that we will become merciful just as the Father is merciful? We walk it in the choices we make. The “work” of making these choices is that faith working in love that St Paul speaks of (Gal 5:6). In other words, we walk that path by doing, not by thinking or arguing with others over what we believe. And, we do by choosing freely to love our enemy rather than to hate him, by choosing to do good and not evil to those who hate us, by choosing to bless and not to curse those who insult us.

Note that this does not mean that we will not have enemies anymore when we follow Him. Nor does it mean that we will no longer have feelings of anger or the desire to trade insults with those who anger us. If those feelings were to disappear, where would be our choice, where would be the opportunity for faith to show its love for Christ by choosing to die to itself and to lose one’s soul for the sake of Christ and the Gospel if we no longer felt anger or hatred? No, the Church tells us that the death of the old man and his old habits of death are still active in us (cf Rm 7); and that God permits this because they give us a way to exercise our freedom to choose to love God by doing what He commands us to do rather than ourselves by choosing to give in to do what our passions want us to do.

When we are confronted by feelings of anger or hatred, it is in that moment that we exercise our choice either to take up our cross and follow Christ, or to go back to our love for the flesh. We can choose, for example, to bless our enemy even though we feel like cursing him. We can choose to do good to those who hate us even when we feel like getting back at them. In that choice, freely made, we have chosen to deny ourselves and to lose our soul for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. We have chosen to take up our cross in that moment and to walk in the way of Christ’s commandments, not in the way of our own will. That is how our faith works in its love for Christ (Gal 5;6) to crucify the old man in us. The holy fathers of the Church tell us that as we make this a habit of our life, as we choose again and again, time after time, not to give in to the old man that is active in us but to the New Man, Christ Jesus, who has been born in our soul through holy baptism, we put that old man to death, so that when the day comes that the Church brings us into the temple in a coffin, the death that the faithful will see will be the death of our death, and a child of God who, in a lifetime of taking up his cross to put the death that is in him to death in his union with Christ, has attained to the perfect man or woman in the fullness of the stature of Christ (Eph 4:13), someone who has become merciful just as the Father is merciful in the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

May God have mercy on us. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen.