It’s true! People do some terrible things to each other. Many of us have been harmed by words and actions of others. Words can assault us and injure us as much as physical blows and others actions may cause harm or death to our loved ones. Those who harm us are often the victims of our hatred, our wrath and our retribution. . We ourselves often strike out with words that hurt towards those we love, even if they are short of actual body blows! We want to get even. We want Retribution!
If we are hurt we want to hurt back as much or more as we are hurt. When we or a loved one are hurt, the adrenalin hits our bodies and prepares us for “fight or flight”. Our blood pressure goes up. Our breathing increases. Our heart rate increases. and the desire for retribution is very strong! And yet as Christians we are faced with a problem. Jesus taught his disciples that we should forgive and not get even. That we should “love God and our neighbor as ourselves, and makes he makes it very clear by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan immediately after that teaching that our neighbor may be someone we hate and has treated us badly and hates us also. Loving God and hating our neighbor is therefore not an option according to Jesus. If we follow what is often called the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor (because it sums up all “the law and the prophets” including the Ten Commandments) then love and forgiveness is the only option for a follower of Christ. It is a simple but difficult command.
And how do we go about loving God anyway? Love is relational. We can say “I love you God”—but how do we show our love to God in action? Love is an action word! Again we go to the great commandment and find out we show our love for God by loving our neighbor no matter how much he or she has hurt us! That’s tough! But we are commanded to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves! Even tougher! If we are to show our love for God in a concrete way the choice between retribution or forgiveness, mercy or getting even, is obvious. The choice is love and mercy and forgiveness.
In my Sunday School Class we have been studying the Beatitudes. We have been aided in our learning by a book written about Mother Teresa and the Beatitudes. You guessed it! I have to teach the class about the beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” this coming Sunday.
As you know, Mother Teresa and her sisters worked in the worst part of Calcutta in India. They opened a House for the Dying among other things they did there. People were dying in filth and squalor covered with their own feces on the streets of Calcutta every day. At first she borrowed a wheelbarrow to get them to the house where they could be cared for and loved and cleaned up and as she put it “at least die a human death”. She viewed what she did as following this Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful” and as showing her love for God by showing love and care to those who were dying alone, in their own feces, on the streets of Calcutta. According to Mother Teresa you show love to God by loving God’s children—and that includes what Mother Teresa called “the least of these.”
She took to heart the Parable of the Last Judgment in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 35-40, where Jesus is assuming the personhood of those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, suffering, in prison, etc. To those who reached out to him in God’s love he says “You did it to me”.
Listen to Mother Teresa’s own words: “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do it to me.” (Matt. 25:40) “If in my name , you give a glass of water, you give it to me. If in my name, you receive a child, you receive me. (Mark 9:37) He has made that a condition also, that at the hour of death we are going to be judged on what we have been and what we have done. He (Jesus) makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the sick one, the lonely one, the unwanted one, the rejected one.
“He says “I was hungry and you gave me to eat.” Not only for bread, I was hungry for love. “I was naked” not only for a piece of cloth, but I was naked for that human dignity of a child of God . “I was homeless” not only for a home made of brick, but I was homeless, rejected, unwanted, unloved, a throw-away of society, and you did it to me”. (end of quote)
Mercy is what you show when you don’t have to! Mercy is unearned. Mercy is forgiveness and love and care when you don’t deserve it. Richard Rohr says “you don’t know what mercy really is until YOU need it. God shows you mercy every day as God forgives for the many actions we take that drag the name of Jesus in the mud. God loves us even as unloving and unlovely as we can be. God shows us mercy and God’s love in that forgiveness. God does not demand retribution. And as we follow Jesus and forgive others who hurt us and do not practice retribution against our neighbors we become capable of receiving God’s mercy. It is as simple and as difficult as that. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Amen.