SHOULD NOT YOU ALSO HAVE PITY ON YOUR NEIGHBOR AS I MYSELF HAD PITY ON YOU? St. Paul taught that "All have sinned and all stand in need of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption brought by Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23, 24)." Paul includes himself along with the rest of us in this blanket statement. All human persons are beneficiaries of the pity of God manifested by his willingness not only to forgive our offences but to share his glory with us. It is striking and rather surprising, it seems to me, that in this statement Paul does not say that all need the mercy or pity of God, but that we are in want of his glory ( ). It would seem he understand grace and redemption here as including a mercy that is so generous that it is manifested by not only by forgiveness but, in addition, the bestowing of a share in God's glory itself. It would seem that what Paul implies here is that it is God's special glory to forgive sins and unique, a privilege uniquely his own.
If we are to share in the glory of God by grace, we are to display the same generous mercy toward those who, for whatever reason, are in our debt. That this debt of ours must be understood inclusively appears very explicitly from the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus explains that anyone in need whom we encounter on our way has a claim on our pity. By his example on other occasions we are also taught that even he was limited in the physical and material assistance he supplied to the sick and poor, though his inclination to mercy extended to all who were disposed to receive it.
We also learn from his manner of treating his circle of disciples that being merciful does not exclude making serious demands on others. Our Lord often corrected and occasionally even reproved his closest followers; he even spoke rather curtly at times to his mother when he had important points to make concerning his heavenly mission. In both of these manners of dealing with others he reflects God's dealings with his people which, time and again, alternated tender mercy with stern correction. Love is not only affectionate and tender, it is also as exacting as truth itself, the truth of God's reality and the truth of our human nature made in God's image. Jesus indicates this at the end of this parable of the debtor when he presents God as condemning the man who failed to show pity to his fellow creature.
Today's Gospel, then, reminds us that our disposition to our neighbor, while remaining concerned with the demands of truth and justice, be ever responsive to the urgings of pity when the occasion presents itself. This applies not only to acts of mercy but even of the judgments and thoughts we entertain concerning our neighbor. Cultivating kind and generous thoughts of others is a form of mercy that enhances the quality of our relations with others. At this Eucharist, may we who experience the mercy of God in the form of a communion in the glorious body and blood of his son, receive also the grace to treat one another and all those we encounter, with that merciful disposition which gives expression to our gratitude for the grace of redemption won for us by Christ Jesus the Lord.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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