Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Minds About His Mercy

March 23, 2015
Monday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Minds About His Mercy
 “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

When I was a child—in understanding as well as in age—I never liked to look at the crucifix. What is said to me was just the opposite of what it should have. I understood that Jesus was being punished for my sins. (Nothing in Catholic doctrine requires us to believe God “punishes” anyone for anything. The consequences of sin are a natural result—a penalty—which is very different than a punishment). And my reaction was fear, not comfort. Basically, what I thought as a child was that my sins were not all that bad, but if Jesus had to suffer so much for them, God must really be mad at me!

I know better now. But I kept for years the idea that God had a much stricter code of morality than we ordinary people did—or at least that he thought our sins were worse than we thought they were. After all, he would punish you in Hell for all eternity if you missed Mass on one Sunday or ate even a bite of meat on Friday. We used to joke about “going to Hell for a hamburger,” but it never entered anyone’s mind to doubt that God would send us there if we did.

Drop into this mindset today’s Gospel in which Jesus, after saving a woman from the legal penalty of death by stoning after she was caught in the act of adultery, said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” That is not the Jesus who came across to me through the pages of the catechism.

So we are called now to a metanoia—a change of mind about the judgment Jesus passes on ourselves and on others. Could it be that our sins aren’t as bad as we thought they were? Or that, if they are indeed worse than we can imagine, God sees our ignorance, our weakness, and the lack of conscious depth in our choices, and does not blame us for them as much as we thought he did—or as much as we blame others and ourselves?

Above all, we are called to change our mind about the love and mercy that burn in the heart of Jesus. And to keep changing it. Not everyone grew up with an impression of Jesus as distorted as mine, But no one of us—including the greatest saints—understands the full “breadth and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” And none of us will until in heaven we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18). The love of Christ is a mystery; that is, a “truth that invites endless exploration.” That means, no matter how much we understand his love, it is still greater than what we understand.

The love of Jesus is mercy. It is inseparable, for us human creatures, at least, from compassion and forgiveness. When Francis urged “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (Joy of the Gospel 3), he incorporated into that invitation, almost as if they were inseparable, a plea to believe in Christ’s mercy:

No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’ The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’

How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onward!

This is, for all of us, a call to conversion; to the ongoing metanoia of constantly changing our minds about Jesus.

Do I choose to let Jesus keep changing my mind about his love and mercy?
Pray: “Lord, even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

Practice: Every time you are conscious of sin, use it to understand more deeply the mercy of Jesus.

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