Friday, October 21, 2016

Mercy – Making Spiritual Progress

We have seen in previous posts that the radical mercy Jesus embodies and demands of his followers is hard. Love your enemies (here and here), be about forgiveness (here), care for the poor (here), bear the burden of those who persecute you (here), risk hospitality to the stranger (here).

But, to paraphrase a question posed in response to one of those previous posts, what if one just doesn't have the fortitude to live this kind of mercy? Are we failures?

Jesus does call us to a radical, vulnerable, self-sacrificial love that is as completely merciful to all as the mercy of the One Jesus called Father. That is part of what it means to take up the way of the cross. That said, the harm some people inflict is real, some wounds inflicted are profound, and some people are more burdensome than others. The weight of the cross can seem too much to bear. To be merciful is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable is to risk pain and loss.

Only God is fully able to be fully merciful. Only God is infinitely vulnerable and able to bear the burden of all the pain and hate and violence and fear of the world. We are not God and not infinitely vulnerable. Most of us need to step back sometimes lest we be overwhelmed. That is not necessarily failure. God knows that “we are but dust.” It is good to remember that even our pursuit to become more like Jesus is lived under the Mercy. But, the goal has still been set before us. Sometimes we take two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes we just inch along. The Saints are those who have gone further toward that goal. That is why they stand out.That is why they provoke and inspire us.

Jesus promises that we do not bear the burden alone. He gives the Holy Spirit to bear the cross with us. And we are called into the community of the Church where others can help bear the load.

Our progress in the way of Jesus is likely to be a herky-jerky affair. The healing of our hearts is a frustratingly slow process. But, we still hope for progress and transformation  under the Mercy.

Here is some wisdom from Bono of the rock band, U2:

I have heard of people having life-changing, miraculous turn-arounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved when both parties "let go, and let God". But it was not like that for me. For all that "I was lost, I am found," it is probably more accurate to say, "I was really lost, I’m a little less so at the moment." And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting of a computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years though, and it is not over yet.
U2 BY U2, p. 6

And here are a couple of pertinent quotes from John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace:

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.

Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a mighty Savior.

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