Monday, March 1, 2010

Be Merciful, Just As Your Father Is Merciful.

Monday of the Second Week in Lent
Reading I
Daniel 9:4b-10
“Lord, great and awesome God,
you who keep your merciful covenant
toward those who love you
and observe your commandments!
We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed
from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes,
our fathers, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O Lord, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day:
we, the men of Judah, the residents of Jerusalem,
and all Israel, near and far,
in all the countries to which you have scattered them
because of their treachery toward you.
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.”
The theme of the readings today is repentance and a prayer for God’s mercy and compassion.

For over 1,000 years this prayer has been read in today’s Lenten Mass. It is an excellent penance prayer - a national act of contrition describing God’s perfection and man’s imperfection. It is a prayer of sorrow and repentance for the many ways in which we have failed to listen to God and his messengers. It is a prayer which contains humility, worship, confession and petition.

“We have sinned… we have rebelled… we have not obeyed… we are shamefaced…” On the other hand, “Justice, Lord, is on your side; we are shamefaced even to this day.”

So much of the time these are not the words we hear from people’s lips - or our own. As soon as something goes wrong, we immediately start looking around for someone to blame.

Our media spend a great deal of time and space pointing fingers at others as the source of our troubles. We call it “scapegoating”. It is something we all indulge in to a greater or lesser extent. Just let us listen to a few people gossiping together over a beer or a cup of coffee.

Today’s reading calls on us to point the finger at ourselves and to be fully aware of how we have failed, have sinned, have rebelled - and have much to be shameful for. A good way to measure our sensitivity in this area might be to look at our confessions. When we do go, what do we confess to? Do we just throw out a few superficial admissions (‘Telling lies’, ‘distractions at prayers’, ‘losing our temper’…) or do we go deep into the areas where we truly fail in our relationships with God, with others and with ourselves?

Perhaps we do not go to Confession at all because “we can’t think of anything to say”. At the same time, most of us would be very slow to reveal to others our inner thoughts and feelings because, to tell the truth, we are quite ashamed of them. Paradoxically, it is often the saint, the one who is closest to God, who is most aware of his or her sinfulness and need for healing.

Lent is a time for conversion, renewal and change. It is a time for openness - especially with oneself. That cannot even begin to take place until we are aware of and acknowledge in ourselves the areas where that change has to take place.

And, having recognized our faults and the harm they have done to others and to ourselves in our relationships with God, we beg his mercy and compassion. And we know for certain that God’s mercy and compassion are guaranteed, once we open ourselves to him.
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Psalm 79
Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.
Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Help us, O God our savior,
because of the glory of your name;
Deliver us and pardon our sins
for your name’s sake
Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
Let the prisoners’ sighing come before you;
with your great power free those doomed to death.
Then we, your people and the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
through all generations we will declare your praise.
Lord, do not deal with us according to our sins.
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Luke 6:36-38
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.”
“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” This is the last sentence in Luke’s version of Jesus’ teaching on the need to love our enemies. We saw Matthew's version last Saturday. There the passage ends with “Be perfect as your Father is perfect.” It is clear that it is in showing compassion for all, even those who wish us evil, that we are to aim at imitating our heavenly Father.

God’s compassion is all-embracing. His love reaches out to all without any discrimination between saint and sinner. Like the rain and sun which fall equally on all, so God’s compassion and mercy are extended to all. We, too, are being called to follow the example of our God and of Jesus his Son. We remember the words of Jesus as he was being nailed to the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Here is the compassion of God being expressed in an extreme situation. The words will be repeated by Stephen when he is being stoned to death.

In today’s Gospel, we are told to follow that compassion by not sitting in judgement on others. That in no way means that we are to be blind to the genuine faults of others. But we are not in a position to take the higher moral ground so that we can sit in judgement on the supposed wrongdoer.

If we are honest we know we judge others a lot, often with very little evidence and even less compassion. Our media, too, are full of judgment. Our conversations, our gossip is full of judgment. We lack compassion for the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters.

At the same time, we do very little to help them correct their ways; in fact, they seldom hear the criticisms we make. It is most often done behind their backs. If they unexpectedly appear, we quickly change the subject. We just take pleasure in the backbiting. We might even be disappointed if they reformed!

“Do not condemn and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned.” Later on in this Eucharist we will pray, “Forgive us our sins in so far as we forgive the sins of others”. A dangerous prayer to make, yet it trips so easily off our tongues, the same tongues that can be so critical and judgemental.

The gospel calls for great generosity in our relationship with others. Not just material generosity but generosity in love, in understanding, in tolerance and acceptance, in compassion and forgiveness. The more generous we are with others the more we will receive in return.

teach me to be generous,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and to seek no reward
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

"For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

The word 'measure' is spoken three times. Could it be an allusion to the Trinity?

God is the measure of everything - absolute truth - and Christ has been given for our use as a measure for everything we do. In every situation, we can ask, 'what would Jesus do?'

'a good measure, packed together,
shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.'

This 'pouring' reminds me of Our Lord, who is described as pouring Himself out for us in both His incarnation and crucifixion. This is the measure we can receive when we make Christ our measure: we receive Christ himself.