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Be Merciful or Be Perfect?

Homily for Thursday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time

Couched in the middle of the long list of instructions that we read in the Gospel today is a statement that always makes me pause. St. Luke writes, “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” 

I am sure that none of what we read in the Gospel today is new information. Once again, St. Matthew included the same instructions in his Sermon on the Mount. Just as in the case of the Beatitudes, St. Luke abbreviates the instructions and makes them much more direct. However, where St. Matthew wrote, “Be perfect, just as also your Father is perfect,” St. Luke substituted the word “merciful.” This is the bit that makes me stop and ponder the question. Is it possible that what St. Luke is saying comes down to this? Being perfect is the same as being merciful.

We describe God as “perfect.” God is without flaw. God is complete. God is beautiful. In his “Praises of God,” St. Francis lists so many different adjectives to describe God. However, when it comes to God’s perfection, it seems to lie in the fact that God is merciful. One has to be strong to be merciful. It isn’t an easy thing to be. As human beings, we would much rather see the punishment match the crime. However, we know that this is not the case with God.

I once read a very moving statement. The author asked the reader to imagine that he or she was standing before a judge and that a list of his or her crimes or sins was being read out to the court. At the end of the long list of crimes, the judge looks at the defendant and asks, “How do you plead to these charges?” At that point, the defense attorney answers the judge. “My client pleads guilty, your honor. However, I have already paid the price for these crimes.” The defendant then turns to look at the attorney and realizes that his lawyer, his advocate, is Jesus. Jesus has paid the price for our crimes. The judge bangs his gavel and says, “The defendant is released.” When I first read this statement, I finally came to realize what we mean when we say that Jesus has saved us. We are guilty, but God is merciful because God is perfect.

Now it is time for us to be merciful. Though we will never be perfect, we can be merciful.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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