Wrath is Easy, but Mercy is Divine
Today’s Gospel is about as straight forward a message as one can read in all of the New Testament.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
It sets out a clear and direct message from the words of Jesus about how it is that we are called to be and act in this world. It also makes clear what God’s priorities are and what God’s actions look like. God cares for all creation, God loves all, God extends mercy to us even when we might think we (or others) deserve it. But that last part, that judgment we are so good at executing, that is a projection of our own human standards and desires, not God’s.
The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel sets up well the human vision and practice against which Jesus is presenting the Divine outlook.
O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
for having sinned against you.
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!
Yet we rebelled against you
and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God,
to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.
Indeed, how “shamefaced” are we! We don’t pay heed to the commands of God (“Love your enemy,” “forgive those who persecute you,” “turn the other cheek,” “care for these the least among you,” and so on and so on).
When we act with the interest of human priorities, skewed as they are by our selfish bias and hubris, we ignore the law of God and the consistent reminder to repent and follow that law exhorted by God’s servants the prophets. We sit on our individual judgment thrones and evaluate those around us and ourselves, promulgating judgment and declaring guilt. We say “this is fair” or “I deserve this,” in a manner that all too often drowns out the message of the Scriptures that turns that self-centered logic on its head.
The life, the words, the actions, the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ all reveal to us the way in which God wishes us to act in this life. If Christ is as fully human as he is divine, then we must recognize that his way is precisely what our way is intended to be. But we are so focused on ourselves that we cannot bear to consider it.
Augustine and Bonaventure describe the persistence of human sin as like being bent over, only able to stare at ourselves and unable to stand upright before our Creator and each other to see the world as it really is. Athanasius says that we have lost the ability to recognize or know God because we have become so fascinated and preoccupied with the lesser and passing things of our immediate reality. Far too many of us have become Narcissus, to recall the Greek myth, unable to look away from the reflection of ourselves or look toward anything that doesn’t immediately concern us.
It is often for this reason that mercy is not our path, wrath is. Generosity is not our disposition, selfishness is. Forgiveness is not found in our attitude, anger is.
These things are easy and seemingly natural, they arise from our being concerned with keeping ourselves first and center. But Christ calls us to do something else, something far more difficult that minding our own business and watching our own backs. It is the love, forgive, heal, and be merciful in the way that God is already with us, even if we are so preoccupied with ourselves that we cannot recognize it.