“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36).”
We are all masters at majoring on the minors. Put a group of religious-minded people together in the same room and it takes no time to turn religion into a series of do’s and don’ts, many of which have little to do with the ways we actually relate to God and one another. This was central to our Lord’s critique of the Pharisees, who, as we have seen, had much in common with the older brother in the Parable of the Compassionate Father (there, we’ve changed the name!). They majored on trivial matters such as clear-cut rules about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath, or how much of their mint, dill and cumin to tithe to the temple priests, while they ignored the weightier matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness.
In the saying from Luke 6 quoted above, Jesus sharpens the ‘weightier matters’ to a precise point. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Wow! This may seem overwhelming. Indeed, if we hear this command clearly, it should seem overwhelming. Be merciful as God is merciful? Really? That’s expecting a bit much. But remember that the mission of our Lord is to empower us for lives of greater mercy. We don’t become merciful as God is merciful by trying harder and harder. We might call this approach willfulness. The attitude of willfulness assumes that it’s all up to us. So, we grit our teeth, clinch our fists and pull out the stops to be merciful just as God is. It doesn’t take a genius to see that that is an unsustainable program (although it still doesn’t stop many of us from trying).
An alternative to willfulness is willingness. Willingness has to do with cooperating with the power of God that is already at work in and through us. We learn to surrender, day by day, to God’s mercy for us, our loved ones, our community and our world. Many of the saints who have walked with God for many years, men and women who have practiced prayer as daily surrender to the merciful God, have reported that they come to feel as thought they are being “loved through.” In other words, they find a compassion and love and mercy that operates through them that clearly is not their own. Such is the direction our faith is taking us as we learn, day by day, to surrender to the Merciful One.
Prayer: Lord, this day and every day, help me to surrender to your great power that is working quietly by love in me.