Sometimes I can barely love those who love ME, let alone those who don’t! If I even suspect I am being ‘cursed’ (read: criticized, thought ill of, not supported) then what rises naturally in my heart is ‘cursing’ in return, though I curse myself for this too! My habitual movement of heart and hands is to cling and grasp and wrest back, not to let go and give away. And though I am not the most judgmental, unforgiving person I’ve ever met ;-) I am often disappointed by how easily judgment rises inside me and how resentment can secretly but vigorously take root in my heart.
So Jesus’ teachings are indeed ‘hard’ for me, and yet also strangely hope-inspiring when I actually read them as true challenge and real invitation, rather than just high and unreachable ideals. Because even while part of me cries out “That is impossible, unreasonable!”, I also trust this man. He lived this teaching, till the bitter end. He truly lived this new way of life, this new way of seeing, and he invited and continues to invite me into it too. And while this is in many ways terrifying, and sometimes discouraging when I see how far I have to go, I am also grateful that he DID, does, invite me into something better and higher. There was no sense in which Jesus said: “Look, guys, I’m someone special (I’m GOD, don’t you know?!) so I can do this – I can love and forgive and bless and heal – but I know you’re a different case. So don’t expect too much of yourselves – I know I don’t!”
It is a constant wonder to me how he managed to seamlessly combine in himself both this uncompromising call to, basically, be like God – “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” – and also so much compassion and understanding and grace for human failure and frailty. I guess that’s what true mercy looks like. It knows who it is, and what is possible. It knows there is so much more for us all. It will never give up, will always persevere. And it will never stop calling to us, waiting for us.
In other words, God truly IS towards us, towards me, how he calls me to be towards others and myself. He only calls me to be merciful because he is constantly and generously pouring out mercy on my unmerciful self, and it is this mercy that makes living mercy possible for me.
Richard Rohr puts it like this: “It appears that humans can only know themselves through the gaze of others. We call it mirroring. [...] [In the Gospel] we have total positive mirroring perfectly described. Receive God’s compassion, and you will be able to be compassionate. Do not receive negative judgment from God, and you will not be judgmental yourself. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Give and it shall be given to you. Jesus describes a perfect reciprocity between what we have received or not received and how we will give or not give. It is all a matter of staying in “the wondrous loop.””
So it seems to me that it really matters how I read these hard sayings, how I look into the ‘mirror’ of the Bible. I can easily read them as condemnation and judgment on me (though why would God be judging me even as he tells me not to judge?!) but this takes me OUT of that ‘wondrous loop’ in which God is and gives to me what I need. Or I can see in these hard sayings what I believe was intended: an incredible invitation from Jesus to enter and partake of the very life of God. If this is true then Jesus’ challenging teaching does a kind of double-work in us: it is meant to make us despair of ourselves and our unmercy, and become desperate for more of God’s mercy for and in and through us, so that we finally fall onto and into it. It is NOT meant to make us despair and give up hope, or think we have to be merciful in order to earn God’s mercy. It is an invitation to take the plunge and dive deep into the bottomless, audacious, un-earnable, freely given, life-transforming mercy of God, by actively participating in this ‘perfect reciprocity’, daring both to give and receive what I need, what we all need.
I long for this. I need this. I taste it now and then and am desperate for more. What about you? Do you long for it, have you tasted it? What are your struggles with mercy? Have you discovered any secrets to 'diving deeper'? I believe we desperately need to pool both our wisdom and our struggle in order to dive deeper on this journey into mercy. So please share!!