|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
During a conference, a young man confronted me with a question, "Who or what is the God you believe in?" I replied him, "Jesus, the Good Shepherd." Those who were listening to me were young entrepreneurs - a group of very ambitious and successful business people. They belonged to different religious persuasions and some of them were even agnostics. They had invited me to lead them in their search to know God a little closer. The theme of the seminar was, ‘The Relevance Of God In The Contemporary Competitive World’. When I mentioned Jesus, the Good Shepherd, they were very interested. How could a shepherd have any relevance in this modern age? I explained to them that this was a title that Jesus wanted us to know Him by. As the Good Shepherd, He would leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness in order to search out and rescue the one lost sheep. It was the lost one that needed the shepherd more urgently. Feeling the pain of loneliness and estrangement of the lost sheep, He goes out risking all that He had even His life to search it out.
“If We Are Faithless, He Remains Faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13)
During my explanation, a young lady cynically remarked, "Your God is an unjust God. How can He leave the faithful majority of the flock to the dangers of the wilderness with its wild beasts and go in search of a single sheep that did not care to stay with Him any way? He definitely is a poor leader - for He should have known better that His responsibility was towards those who remained with Him and not towards the one who did not care for him." I replied that it was possible that my God may be a poor leader, but He definitely is a great lover. His love is so personal that He will not let any one of those who belongs to Him to perish. That is the mission of His Heart. The sad truth is that leadership today is looked at as a selfish endeavour of pleasing the majority to get support and applause. Individuals who are not able to fall in line with the policies of the majority, because of their personal history, will be wounded and estranged in the process. They do not matter for the leaders. Such individuals will be even looked at as a threat because the principle generally accepted is that those who are not with you are against you. Potential threats will not be tolerated by "effective" leadership. I continued to explain to them that my God knows every one personally - as He said that even a hair falling from our head is counted (Matthew 10:30)
Even in the moments when I fail Him by my unfaithfulness I could still count on Him to be there for me and not against me. A long discussion followed in which many were impressed by my proposal. Yet they confessed, “We can never imagine that God having the power to have His Way should tolerate our vagaries without an inclination to punish us!” The Mercy of God was still beyond their comprehension. Deeply rooted in their minds was the idea of the Justice of God. As God is the creator and guarantor of the system of "right" and "wrong", He has to set the system right by punishing the wrong. The necessary consequence is that when I do something wrong, I had to pay back for the sake of the system of morality. Such thinking breeds fear. Then the natural tendency in my mind is to interpret every thing bad happening to me as a punishment of God. Fear causes rebellion and despair. God is looked at as a threat to happiness and welfare of human life. Agnosticism is the offshoot of such untrue concoctions of the human mind on the Divine Reality.
“How Can I Give You Up?” (Hosea 11:8)
In the Bible there is a progressive revelation of the Mercy of God. When the people of God were painfully struck by their own unfaithfulness to the stipulations of the Covenant that God had made with them, they were frightened of God's wrath. They interpreted every disaster and misfortune that occurred to them as Divine interventions to punish them and teach them a lesson. But in time, their eyes were opened with the great events of God's salvation. Salvation was not what they deserved for they had violated the Covenant by their unfaithfulness. Yet the Lord God intervened for the one purpose of their salvation. The Hebrew word ‘hesed’ used in this context has much significance. The word indicates a profound attitude of 'goodness'. In the Old Testament, the word occurs always in connection with the Covenant that God established with His people.
In accordance with the Covenant, God promises to be faithful to His people by protecting and saving them. However the people had to be also faithful to the Covenant by obeying its stipulations. This was the Justice of God. According to this Divine justice, God's commitment to the Covenant would cease when the people strayed away from Him and the Covenant. But precisely at this point, the transcendent meaning of God's 'hesed' was manifested as Mercy - goodness greater than justice. As Pope John Paul II explained well, "It showed itself as what it was at the beginning, that is, as love that gives, love more powerful than betrayal, grace stronger than sin" (Encyclical: 'Rich in Mercy').
The people realized that God's fidelity and love did not depend on their attitude towards Him. Through Prophet Isaiah God declared, "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on you." (Isaiah 54:10) God, in showering upon them unmerited goodness, was simply faithful to His own nature, which was Unconditional Love. He exhorts the people through the Prophet Ezekiel, "Therefore say to the house of Israel: thus says the Lord God: it is not for your sake that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name." (Ezekial 36:22) The prophets reminded the people time and again that, although they did not deserve the blessings of the Lord because of their infidelity to Him, they should trust in His Mercy.
Often in the Old Testament, the Mercy of God was contrasted with God's Justice, and in many cases was described to be more powerful and profound. Indeed mercy triumphs over justice in the sense that mercy conditions justice and justice serves mercy. Mercy became such an overwhelming experience of the Psalmist and the Prophets that the very meaning of the Justice of God was interpreted as the salvation accomplished by the Mercy of God. Promising Divine imminent intervention, God says, "Be attentive to me, my people... I will make my justice come speedily; my salvation shall go forth..." (Isaiah 51:4-5) Through Prophet Jeremiah, God declares, "I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you." (Jeremiah 31:3) Thus the term 'hesed' highlights the fidelity of God to His own nature of love that flows into His people saving them. It corrects and transcends all human ideas of justice as a mere juridical concept. If anyone interprets the Old Testament references regarding Divine justice as if God's blessings would depend on our merit, it would only be a misinterpretation.
“As A Father Has Compassion On
His Son” (Psalm 103:13)
The fidelity of God expressed by the term 'hesed' is transcendently perfected by another term, namely, 'rahamim', used by the Old Testament to illustrate God's Goodness towards humankind. Its root is 'rehem', which means the womb of the mother. Hence 'rahamim' denotes the love of a mother. Through Prophet Isaiah God consoles His people, "Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even those may forget, yet I will not forget you." (Isaiah 49:15) By using the analogy of motherly love to illustrate God's attitude to man, the Bible emphasizes the completely gratuitous nature of Divine Love. Mother's love flows out of an exigency of her heart. It springs forth as an interior necessity, not depending at all on the response of the child. Indeed when the children are incapable of a response due to indifference, mistrust, sickness or sinful attitudes, the heart of the mother goes out to them all the more powerfully. By this analogy the motherly characteristics of tender affection, infinite patience and constant forgiveness are attributed to the Love of God. Through Prophet Hosea God assures, "I will heal their faithlessness, I will love them freely". (Hosea.14:5)
The New Testament completes and perfects the revelation of the Old Testament. Jesus reveals the mystery of Divine Mercy in an unparalleled manner. The words of Jesus become beautifully eloquent while conveying the tender care and loving concern of 'Abba' to his children. "How much more does He care for you?" is a question that penetrates our hearts whenever we hear it from the mouth of Jesus. The mercy of the Heart of God is described with great precision in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). The profound drama played out between the father's love and the son's waywardness reveals in clear light the whole mystery. By welcoming the son with open arms and restoring him to the right, dignity and honour of sonship with a joyous celebration, the father has gone beyond all norms of justice. This precisely was the objection of the elder son. The elder son, though he was always with the father, could never understand the inner content of the father's heart. The parable clearly points to those who claim to be religiously faithful, but have not been blessed to experience the Mercy of the Heart of God.
Through the bold and profound teaching of the Divine Mercy, the Church in recent times has been exhorting the faithful to contemplate this mystery revealed in the Sacred Scriptures and live it in their personal as well as communitarian lives. A deep understanding of this mystery will take away all the fear and anxiety that mar the happiness of the modern man. To know that there is a God who cares and loves , irrespective of my virtue and sin, success and failures, gives confidence and stability to my consciousness
“As I Have Loved You, You Also Must Love One Another” (John 13:34)
Human relationships are to be moulded in the perspective of the Mercy of God. When one experiences profoundly the unconditional Mercy of God, one will not be able to condemn others - no matter what was done. If relationships are strained and family life is disrupted, it is because the hearts are not "rooted and grounded in the love" (Ephesians 3:17) with which we are loved by God.
I remember speaking to a young lady who was in the process of applying for a divorce. The reason was that the husband was discovered talking frequently on the mobile phone to a lady colleague in a rather intimate manner. The husband, realizing the mistake, cut off the unholy relationship during a retreat. But the wife could never understand or accept why he had cheated on her. I prayed for her after having listened to her story completely and suggested to her that she should ask pardon from the husband for the unfortunate turn of events in the marriage. She was furious and shouted at me, “Do you know what you are talking? For his mistake, is there any sense or justification for me to ask pardon from him? It is he who must pay for his sin. That is why I want to divorce him so that the whole world would know what type of man he is.” I told her that she was far away from the mind of God, and her response to his sin is ungodly and would definitely be displeasing to God. She has a responsibility to save him and that would be possible only if she becomes humble before him in love. She retorted, "What justice are you talking about? He humiliated me enough by being unfaithful to me, and now you want me to be humiliated further before him". I told her that what I was suggesting is beyond all norms of human justice. No court of law in any country would tell her this. Only Jesus would give this to her as a command, because His Love goes beyond all stipulations of worldly justice. He washed the feet of Simon Peter who denied Him and of Judas who betrayed Him, and of all the disciples who abandoned Him. He was washing away their sin. Thus it was an act of mercy that saved them. After the washing of the feet, Jesus gave this to his disciples as a command. "If I then, your Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." (John 13:14-15) It took a long while to convince her of this higher version of God’s saving love.
The only way to enter the kingdom of God is to understand the mystery of the Mercy of God and live it out in life. Jesus said, “If your righteousness does not transcend that of the Pharisees and scribes, you will not enter the kingdom of God.” But when we dare to open our eyes to this unconditional love of our God, whose only intent is to save us, we shall become instruments of His salvation and goodness to our families and to this world.
Let Us Pray
God of Mercy and Compassion, how blessed we are to be redeemed by Your Love. We failed You by our sinfulness and we failed You all the more by refusing to see Your Mercy that was ever reaching out to receive us. Today O God, we place into Your Hands, our lives, our failures and our endeavours to be right before You. Cover us in Your Love. Hold us close to Your Heart and bind our wounds of unfaithfulness and loneliness.
As Your Love flows into our heart, we commit ourselves to live this Mercy, to bless those who broke and to bow down before those who trample us. For we know, O God, then shall Your mission of defeating evil and saving this world shall be accomplished.
Jesus, we trust in You.