We always struggle to differentiate the core from the periphery; what is at the heart of a message from what explains the message. To a large extent every language or form of communication is encoded and sometimes decoding it to get to the core substance is not as easy as it sounds. The same can be said about faith and about scripture.
The substance of the Christian message is Love and yet that is what we struggle with the most. We have identified some other values of Christianity that must flow from Love and yet we have made these the substance, while the substance we have considered as addons.
No wonder till date we still struggle with the statement of Jesus: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, he did not mince words: Love of God and Love of neighbour was his answer and yet this is the challenge for all Christians.
It is easy to perform miracles than to love, it is easy to prophesy than to love and it is easy to speak in tongues than to love: we seem focussed on the addons of Christianity to the neglect of the substance.
Jesus asked the Pharisees, “Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of man has authority to forgive sins on earth –he said to the paralytic-I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home (Mark 2: 9-11).
We see the walking, but we do not see the mercy received because the miracle of walking was preceded by the love and mercy given by God. St. Paul states: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)
All other attributes of God present us with an aspect of who God is but only one captures his essence: Love or mercy, the greatest attribute of God. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 cor. 13:13). The goal of faith is love, for our faith is in God who is Love. We hope to see him face to face and once we have beheld him face to face, there would be no need to hope because we hope in that which we have not yet encountered. Therefore, we hope to see the face of love.
Scripture reveals to us that the proof of divine love is divine mercy: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” On Divine Mercy Sunday, we remind ourselves of the A, B, C of the message of mercy.
Ask for mercy for it is already there for the taken. Jesus with his outstretched arms on the cross continues to offer us mercy. The problem is not that mercy is not given; the problem is that we do not ask enough for it. Pope Francis captures it better: God does not tire in showing mercy, we tire in asking for forgiveness. The invitation to ask however requires humility. A proud person finds it difficult to ask for pardon for he thinks himself perfect without flaws. To ask for mercy also implies the ability to apologize and ask people whom we have offended to forgive us. Learn to say sorry, for it does not diminish you but liberates you. And mean it before you say it otherwise, they just remain meaningless words.
“Be merciful, just as your heavenly father is merciful” Luke 6:36. This is not a suggestion or an appeal, it is an imperative according to language scholars. Nemo dat quod non habet is an old datum that translates; you cannot give what you do not have. Peter (with John) at the beautiful gate told the cripple beggar: “silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). If you have not received mercy you cannot give it. It is sacrilegious to receive without giving “for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2). How difficult it is for a Christian to let go, even though he imprisons himself. He forgets he has been given the key to his own liberation.
Charity is the mother of all virtues. To borrow the words of Vatican II, it is the font and source of all Christian virtue. All we do must flow from the motive of love otherwise it is not Christian. And all that we do must lead to love and construct love. In this time when we are all locked in not for fear of the Jews but fear of a virus, let us encounter the risen Christ who makes us apostles of mercy beginning at home. And let us reach out to those who are in most need of our forgives, love and resources.
Source: Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Salifu