Receive Mercy, Become Mercy, Offer Mercy

When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy during Lent, our practice is to recite the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6.36-38)

The Son of God became like us that we might become like Him.

Us. All of us alike have gone astray, each to his own way. One is not “less astray” than the other. I am not better than my fellow human. I am not worse either. We are all encountered by God in love in our common condition of lost-ness – of hell.

When we begin our life of Christian discipleship, we realize that categories of sin are, in many ways, an attempt to not to achieve justice but to excuse myself and make myself feel “less bad.” We realize that when we judge our brother or sister (see the story Pharisee and publican) we are actually condemning ourselves.

It doesn’t mean we throw judgment out the window and adopt a “whatever” attitude. No, judgment is necessary. It is just that God is the only judge. And, His judgment is not from afar but from the midst of us. Christ is in our midst as the merciful judge. Mercy is the law that governs the whole universe. It is the power that saves the whole universe. It is the law that is at the heart of every authentic relationship. Perhaps that is why, in the Holy Tradition, “Lord have mercy” is the most frequently repeated phrase.

His desire is for you and me to be in the midst of the life of others in the same way by grace. The unceasing phrase within us needs to be, “Lord have mercy.” Be merciful as your Father is merciful. The mercy we receive is the exact mercy we offer. Not a skimpy mercy. That is not mercy. That is judging in noble clothing. Mercy is overflowing, outrageous, and astonishing. It is not, therefore, the mercy I would end up offering. My version of mercy must be crucified. What is raised — born — is the mercy of God in me that I choose to be expressed through me. The mercy I offer is the mercy I have become by grace.

If that is the case, my task is to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s desire to address everything in my life that hinders such an inward-outward flow or operates instead of it or contradicts who I am in Christ — my life-giving identity by grace.

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“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4.15-16)

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You see, then, that Christ has two natures in one Person, one which always was and another which began to be. And according to that nature which was eternally his, he always knew everything. But according to that which began in time, he experienced many things in time. In this way he began to know the miseries of the flesh, by that mode of cognition which the weakness of the flesh instructs.

Our first parents were wiser and happier when they did not know that which they came to know only foolishly and in wretchedness. But God their Creator, seeking what was lost, came down in mercy in pursuit of his wretched creatures, to where they had miserably fallen. He wanted to experience for himself what they were suffering because they had gone against his will. He came not out of a curiosity like theirs, but out of a wonderful charity. He did not intend to remain wretched among them, but to free those who were wretched as one made merciful.

Therefore Christ was made merciful, not with that mercy which he who remained happy had had from eternity, but with that mercy which he discovered in our fleshly garb as he himself went through our misery. SourceSaint Bernard (1091-1153), The Degrees of Humility and Pride, §12

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