August 19, 2017

Mercy is the Highest Form Of Love (Proper 20)

Love by itself is a vague word that can mean many different things from sexual attraction to self-sacrificial mercy. The readings teach us that God wants more than a formal relationship with us. God wants a passionate, powerful risk-taking love that is passionate, intimate and forgives. Mercy, when God or we forgive, and give the other another chance, is the highest form of love. This is why God pushes us so hard in life that we often rebel, run away, get into trouble and then have to humble ourselves and depend on God's mercy. This is how our love and spiritual life grows.

 1. Jesus shows us how God’s love and mercy never gives up

Jesus had righteous anger (the good kind) at the Pharisees for developing new teachings that deliberately miss-interpreted God’s Commandments. They focused on the outward details of food and washing, rather than what goes on in the heart. They reduced love of God, self and neighbour to self-serving rituals. Jesus warns His followers to avoid “false teachers” that try to introduce teachings that contradict Scripture:
·         We are to “Leave them; they are blind guides” (v14).
·         Instead of what goes into our mouths (the physical) we are to focus on 'what come out of a man’s mouth” (the spiritual) (Matthew 15.11).
·         What we say and do indicates what is really in our heart.
·         The test is when things go wrong - are we really loving, or do we explode in anger?
·         Jesus challenges us to examine ourselves more closely, to root out any lingering anger, bitterness, jealousy or fear; and bring this to Confession and Forgiveness at the Cross
·         God's mercy is unending - no matter how much we have done to separate ourselves from God; Gods’ love and mercy never gives up!

2. Jesus was really testing the love of the Canaanite Woman
He really insulted her. Most people would have left. But she persisted. She was really desperate for her daughter. Her love for her daughter was greater than her pride. She is willing to fight with Jesus for His attention. This is exactly the kind of passionate love relationship God wants with us. God does not want “cold love”. God wants hot, passionate love - the kind of love that would drive an uneducated woman to challenge a respected rabbi and the established teachings of the Pharisees in public.
  • She tells Jesus (and the Pharisee in all of us), that His idea of God is too small, too unloving.
  • This does not offend Jesus. He is testing her, pushing her
  • Jesus delights in the challenge. He knows she is right and the established teachings wrong.
  • He commends her passionate love of God and her faith to us.
  • God tests all of us with adversity, sickness, losses
  • God allows Satan to tempt us and deceive us so we all need mercy
  • God reaches out and shakes us up - not to hurt us, but to force us to grow in love as we realize His mercy is without limit
 3. Jacob could easily have given up on his brothers
They had treated him very badly. They had ruined his life by selling him into slavery. Jacob, like many of us, could easily have become bitter. He could have spent the rest of his life brooding over his situation. He could have allowed himself to be eaten up with anger, bitterness and un-forgiveness. The number of people Lucille and I have helped get out of bondage to un-forgiveness is amazing!
·         Joseph chose to have mercy on his brothers
·         In jail he had mercy and helped the other prisoners.
·         As ruler of Egypt he had mercy on Pharaoh and the people of Egypt
·         Having already forgiven his brothers, he had mercy on them
·         God is trying to teach us all to have mercy on ourselves and others

So What?
My homiletics Professor taught me to always ask this question when preparing a homily. So we need to apply this teaching on mercy to our own lives. All of us at some time have felt abandoned by God or that God did not love us. This is of course Satan’s lie.
  • Good news is that when we think we are abandoned or hated, it is a sign that we are being tested.
  • Our love of God is being tested.
  • Our love of our self is being tested
  • Our love of our neighbour is being tested
  • What comes out of our mouth?
  • Is it anger, bitterness and un-forgiveness?
  • Is it love in the form of mercy?
There was a Cananite woman. She was not included in the Covenant of Moses. She was not educated. But she was desperate to save her daughter from a demon. What came out of her mouth was a passionate love that publicly challenged religious teaching and God himself.

What came out of her mouth was love in its highest form - mercy.

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