For the past 4 ½ years I have been living and working in our Abbey in Germany. A large part of what I did there was working with Refugees.
One day one of the refugees asked me, “why do you help us even though we aren’t Christians”? I asked, “why do you think we help”? He was quiet for a long while and then said, “because we are all children of God”? “Yes”, I said, “and because Jesus told us to help those who cannot help us, and do to others as we want done to us. We are to be compassionate and merciful as Allah (God) is merciful and compassionate.”
In the Gospel today Jesus gives us this exact command. He turns everything we think we know upside down and tells us to turn the other cheek, love those who do not love us, not to judge, and to be merciful and forgive.
We like to think we are a Christian country, but all you need to do is turn on the news to see that we are often FAR from being followers of Christ.
If you are shocked or uncomfortable with Jesus words you are not alone. His listeners would have been shocked as well. The Jews at the time were a conquered people. There were foreign soldiers (Romans) all over their country and people were burdened with taxes by a foreign king.
The Greek word used here for love is agape. It does NOT mean a romantic love, or liking someone, or even friendship love.
What Jesus is talking about is a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other person.
We might not like some of their behaviors. We might disagree with what they stand for, but to love those we do not like or disagree with will be to disagree with them in such a way that we still desire their well-being.
Jesus tells us we are to do good! What does that mean? That means to do well by others. It means to be just, to do the right thing, even if we do not like them or think they are bad. It means to be honorable, a trait that seems to have lost its importance.
Jesus tell us to - STOP JUDGING! I took some training over the past few years in Spiritual Direction. If you are going to help people in the spiritual life you have to learn your own weaknesses. I used to think I was a pretty open guy. I found out that I can be quite the judging guy. Not a pretty thing to see when you look in the mirror, but a good start to healing and living the Lord’s command not to judge.
Jesus also tells us to be merciful as God is Merciful. If you have never been shown mercy it might be hard to know what that is.
So what does it mean to be merciful? When I googled it I got this answer: Forgiving, compassionate, gracious, lenient, pitying, humane, mild, softhearted, tenderhearted, kind, kindly, sympathetic, patient, humanitarian, liberal, easygoing, tolerant, generous, benevolent etc.
Being merciful might be what some today would call being a “snowflake”.
Just to bring home the point, the opposite of merciful is merciless or cruel. And boy have we learned how to be merciless and cruel with the poor, with the migrant, and with those who do not think as we think.
Where have we, where has our Church, has our Society forgotten how to be merciful? Something to ponder this week.
We are asked to FORGIVE!
To forgive and pray for someone who has deeply wronged you is tuff! Man is it tuff! It’s one of the hardest things to do. I can’t say that I have totally mastered it yet.
About five years ago I was deeply wronged by someone who I thought was my friend. I must confess I am still working on forgiving him. I shared this one day at coffee break in the abbey with one of the younger monks. He got really upset and asked me “how can you call yourself a Christian if you can’t forgive this man”. I said “because I am working on forgiving and being merciful to him. I want to, but will need time and grace.”
My brothers and sisters, what the Lord is asking of us today isn’t easy, and he never said it would be easy. It certainly cost him everything. But if we are to truly be what our baptism calls us to be, then we have to keep trying. We Benedictines take a vow of conversion of life which is basically this continued trying to make our hearts more like HIS.
We gather here around the altar. We come with our brokenness, with our wounds, our judgieness, our merciful, and mercilessness. We ask that through partaking in this holy sacrifice our hearts might be made more like HIS heart. May HE strengthen us to be more loving, just, and merciful till the day when we finally see him face to face. AMEN
Fr. Adam Patras, OSB