Saturday 20 February 2016
Turning into the best version of yourself
(1st Week of Lent, Saturday: Deuteronomy 26:16-19; Matthew 5:43-48)
I love pondering the divine potential promised to us: To be perfect like God the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48); and in this Year of Mercy we easily add Luke’s view: To be merciful as is our Father (Luke 6:36). This is how we are designed and meant to be. This is us at our best.
In stark contrast the drama of humankind revolves around guilt, failure, misery and the often appalling ways dealing with it. Literature reflects this; soap operas demonstrate it and our own experiences verify it. Unfortunately the approaches often end in devastating escalation.
Our own tradition names it: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-seven fold” (Genesis 4:23-24).
Disproportionate reactions are easily the resort of people wounded and hurt by the acts of others. What progress offers Lev 24:20, then, for avengers when demanding “just” and eye for an eye – and nothing more! And yet no escape from the spiral of revenge?
Lamech’s lamentable position resounds totally converted in the advice of the Redeemer to grant mercy seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22) instead. The divine intervention looks very different and appeals to my and your potential, developed to the fullest, made perfect: Be merciful as your heavenly Father is!
The Latin word for mercy/compassion is misericordia. It means having a heart for misery and the miserable, wretched people. It talks about amazing grace for those guilty, those forlorn in the travesties of an indifferent world such a refugees, the poor and deprived suffering scandalous inequality, the aged and disabled, the sick caught in a struggling health system and learners exposed to poor schooling … Seventy-seven times – actually always – mercy acting for them: Imagine how different the world would look.
The prison ministry in my diocese develops a project of restorative justice. Having a heart for criminals does not mean to condone evil, but to change one’s own heart towards perpetrators and victims, and opening up venues for restoring relationships. A new quality emerges even if an offender is not ready to cooperate: One’s one heart is restored.
How to achieve what appears so impossible to many? Following the example of Jesus is good advice. Today he recommends praying for our enemies so that we don’t become or remain accomplices in the spiral of evil. “Harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:8) it resounds daily in the morning prayer of the Church.
A simple way for opening hearts to misery may be praying the rosary. Instead of taking the usual mysteries one can insert after having said “the fruit of your womb, Jesus” something like “who died for” or “who loved”, inserting a specific name or cause before continuing with “Holy Mary, Mother of God …” Try it; repeat it for one decade or even five. It worked for me, even when the other side didn’t show signs of remorse or change. But my heart changed.
Enjoy becoming as perfect and as merciful as your Father is.
+Bishop Michael Wüstenberg
Diocese of Aliwal