Greetings dear family of our beloved Saviour, Jesus Christ, may the light of the Holy Spirit grant to us all the faith to always trust in God’s infinite mercy, to never doubt His unconditional love for us. Amen.
Having come to Jesus and accepted Him as your Saviour, do you ever get discouraged at your failings? – I know I do! You say a word in anger, you get inpatient, you are judgemental or maybe you get feelings of envy, jealously or pride over something. We all have our weaknesses from time to time whilst trying to live out the Christian life. Look at what St Paul has to say about himself in his letter to the Romans: “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells within my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:18-25) St Paul was having a hard time of it here wasn’t he? I am sure there was some humility here and that his faults were not as bad as he would have us believe. He had a real problem with himself, but God did not abandon him in his weakness! St Paul followed the above words with thanksgiving for the victory of Christ (v:25) and then goes on to say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) We are righteous in God’s eyes through Christ’s blood.
If we look at the struggle of St. Paul, we see that he did not consent to the “evil” which he did: He writes, “I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (v:19) In this statement we see that St Paul did not consent with the will; where there is no consent of the will, there is no sin, but only human weakness, only when one consents willingly does one commit a sin. This is not to say that we can be content in our weaknesses, but God understands our fallen nature and allows us time to grow in Holiness. Life is nothing but a continual struggle against oneself and we will always fall into some small defect or other, but the Christian life is not so much about not falling as it is about rising each time we fall, it is about being humble and having contrition over our sins. Holiness is found in humility, and humility is the knowledge that only God is Holy and only His Spirit within us can make us Holy. It has been said that God’s love is the flower, His mercy the fruit.
Jesus did not choose twelve saints for His disciples, he chose 12 humble, hard working men with good hearts. Men that He knew would be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Peter denied Jesus three times, Thomas doubted our Lord and had to place His finger in Christ wounds before he would believe, James and John were proud, first getting their mother to ask if they could sit at Christ’s right hand and then claiming they were able to “drink the cup” that Christ was to drink, this all made the others angry. In the garden they all fled from Christ when the soldiers came to arrest Him – only after the Holy Spirit came upon them did they find their courage and become martyrs for the faith. So we must not be disappointed by our weaknesses or become saddened by our failings, because the joy of the heart is the life of the soul, and as Christians we must always bear witness to the world of that supernatural joy that comes with that all sufficient grace, which brings to us the gift of salvation!
God forgives repentant sinners, but not so the ones who make no effort to overcome their weaknesses, who are content in their sins and justify their actions – we cannot abuse God’s mercy. Mercy begins with the acknowledgement of the need for forgiveness – grace comes with repentance. Jesus gave us an example of this with the Tax Collector and the Pharisee at prayer in the temple (Luke 18:9-15). The Tax Collector was ashamed of his sin, and in his humility would not raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (v:13). Jesus claimed that this man was justified above the proud Pharisee who acted well.
In receiving God’s mercy Jesus asks that we also forgive those who trespass against us (Matt 6:12) Jesus himself lived out these words which He gave to us in the Sermon on the Mount: He said “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:39) Jesus was struck many times during His Passion and He would never have thought to retaliate. Jesus also told us, “If any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well.” (v:40). We know that during His Passion Jesus was stripped of all His garments. Jesus also tells us, “If any one forces you to go 1 mile, go with him 2 miles.” (v:41)
This is a reference to the law of the Roman occupation: During this period Roman law demanded that if a Roman citizen asked a Jew to carry something for him, the Jew was obliged to do so, up to the distance of 1 mile. During His Passion Jesus was forced to carry His own cross. Jesus also tells us “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (v:44) During His Passion Jesus loved His enemies and prayed for them from the cross. Not only did Jesus pray for them: “Father forgive them”, but He also excused them: “for they know not what they do.” In all this we can see that Jesus fully lived out the teachings that He had given to us. He taught us by example how to be merciful towards others, so that in turn we might obtain mercy from God.
St Padre Pio once said, “If the mercy of God were what many Christians believe it to be then all men would be in hell.” But fortunately for us God’s mercy is not what we believe it to be, for God’s ways are far higher than our ways and His mercy is far greater than we can possibly imagine. Jesus loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8-11) so how much more does He love us now that we have come to Him and placed our souls into His care, to be reconciled to the Father through His blood? We must never doubt the mercy of God, to do so is to wound the heart of God. The enemy of our souls is always prowling around us to try to take our peace from us, but we must have great trust in God’s mercy. God desires that we trust in His love and mercy – He loved us into being, and His love continues throughout all eternity.
The following quote, which I have used before, is a wonderful expression of God’s mercy: “When God looks at us with His merciful eyes, He does not look at what we have been, neither does He look at what we are, but He looks at what we desire to be.” This is how our Lord must have looked upon St Paul. He did not look at his past – as someone who had persecuted the church. He did not look at who he was – as someone with weaknesses, but our Lord looked at who St Paul desired to be – and he saw that he desired to be always faithful to God and to love and serve Him well. Something which I think we will all agree he did – by the power of the Holy Spirit.