God be Merciful to Me

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.”  (Luke 6:27-30)

St John Chrysostom, once asked about what kind of people would ask God to do something that goes against God’s own commandments.  He was thinking it is you and I!

“Those that make requests it is fitting for God to grant, not beseeching him for what is opposed to his laws.  And who is so bold, you ask, as to make God grant what is opposed to his laws?  Those who intercede with him against their enemies; this, of course, is at variance with the law decreed by him.  He says, remember, ‘forgive your debtors.’ (Matthew 6:12).   But do you call on him against your enemies when he has bidden you pardon them?  What could be worse than this absurdity?  In prayer you should have the appearance, attitude and approach of a suppliant; so why do you adopt another guise, that of accusation?  I mean, how would you succeed in gaining pardon of your own faults when you expect God to be the punisher of other’s crimes?”  (COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS Vol 1, p 52)

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  (Colossians 3:12-13)

The Foundation of Love

Spiritual progress has no other test in the end, nor any better expression, than our ability to love. It has to be unselfish love founded on respect, a service, a disinterested affection that does not ask to be paid in return, a ‘sympathy’, indeed an ‘empathy’ that takes us out of ourselves enabling us to ‘feel with’ the other person and indeed to ‘feel in’ him or her. It gives us the ability to discover in the other person an inward nature as mysterious and deep as our own, but different and willed to be so by God.

In this fallen world the unity of human beings has been broken, everything is a ‘rat race’, and I try to free myself from the anguish that torments me by projecting it onto another, the scapegoat of my tragic finiteness. The other person is always my enemy and I need him to be so. In Christ, however, death has been defeated, my inner hell transformed into the Church, I no longer need to have enemies no one is separated from anyone. The criterion of the depth of one’s spiritual growth is therefore love for one’s enemies, in accordance with the paradoxical commandment of the Gospel that takes its meaning solely from the cross – Christ’s cross and ours – and from the resurrection – again Christ’s and our own.

(Oliver Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pp. 270-271)

By Order of the King: Love Your Enemies

Jesus said:  “And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “  (Luke 6:31-36)

St. John Chrysostom writes:

If the Emperor had laid down a law that all those who were enemies should be reconciled to one another, or have their heads cut off, should we not everyone make haste to a reconciliation with his neighbor? Yes! Truly, I think so! What excuse then have we, in not ascribing the same honor to the Lord that we should do to those who are our fellow-servants? For this reason we are commanded to say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12). What can be more mild, what more merciful, than this precept! He has made you a judge of the pardon of your own offences! If you forgive few things, He forgives you few! If you forgive many things, He forgives you many! If you pardon from the heart, and sincerely, God in like manner also pardons you!

(Preparation for Great Lent, p. 8)

Christ commands us to love one another and even to love our enemies.  While some Christians thunder about God’s  impending judgment of sin and sinners based on Old Testament law, rarely do they mention how those who disobey Christ’s direct commandments might be judged.  If we live godly sexual lives but refuse to love neighbors and enemies or refuse to forgive those who offend us, will we be judged by God as sinners or worse than sinners?   Do we imagine that Jesus Christ takes His own commandments less seriously than those of the Torah?  It seems rather that Christ assumes all of the 613 laws of the Torah can be summarized in a couple of teachings:

So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.   (Matthew 7:12)

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”   Matthew 22:37-40)

Christians of all sorts tend to pick and chose which of the commandments of the Torah they are required to follow or  face God’s judgment.  But Christians do not teach it is OK to disobey or ignore the commandments of Christ Himself.  So how can Christians justify focusing on Old Testamental laws about sexual morality while overlooking Christ’s direct commandments about loving others?  We don’t get to pick and choose on what basis God will judge us, we can, however, determine how God will judge us by our own treatment of others.

St John Chrysostom in the above quote sees Christ’s prayer that God forgive us in the same way we forgive others (or that God treat us as we treat others) as being pretty straightforward and merciful.  For in this, Christ says you are in charge of your own destiny on judgment day, because as you now treat others, you are telling God this is how you want to be treated by God on judgment day.  You are telling God by your own behavior (how you treat others) how you want God to judge you!  The more forgiving you are, the more God forgives you.

Something for all of us Christian to think about.

One other thought came to my mind.  I remember reading many years ago about Genghis Khan and a theological “wrestling match” that he arranged.  Though some of the details of this have been lost in history and the results of the debate are no longer  known, apparently Genghis, who loved watching wrestling matches, had representatives of the Christian, Buddhist and Islamic faiths engage in a debate to see if any could best the rest.  One rule that he laid down was that they could only speak in positive terms about their own faith.  If the debaters spoke negatively about the other faiths, the penalty would be death.

Just imagine in our times if politicians and political parties at election time were only allowed to speak positively about what they would do but could not use negative advertising against their opponents.   This would be a form of loving one’s enemies, and should be practiced by Christian politicians.  Tell  us what you are going to do and your vision, but never tell us what you fear your opponent will do.  Inspire us with your good vision, don’t play to our worst fears to get our votes.   I think this would improve every campaign and would certainly add a Christian dimension for those who claimed to be Christian.  This type of thinking might also rid the airwaves of quite a number of talk show hosts.

Do Unto Others

Many people are familiar with the teaching of Jesus Christ, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It is often referred to as “The Golden Rule” and can be found even in non-Christian texts that list principles by which to live or ethical rules.  And while the Golden Rule can be understood in and of itself [it is a statement which makes sense when it stands alone], it has a greater context in which it is given to us.  That context helps us realize the unexpected, even radical, intent of the message.   We can read the Golden Rule in its place in Luke 6:27-36 (given here from the RSV):

“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.

And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

The Golden Rule turns out to be one of Christ’s commandments to His followers.  It’s not the Golden Ideal or the Golden Guideline, but issued as a commandment to be obeyed.  And in its context we see Christ’s Golden Rule is neatly sandwiched between another of Christ’s commandments:  Love your enemies, which Jesus repeats before and after the Golden Rule.   Jesus fleshes out what loving your enemy looks like – no retaliation, no vengeance, no revenge, not even any schadenfreude.  It involves prayer, good deeds, charitable giving and mercy.  How would you hope any enemy who had you, or someone you loved, in his/her power – at his/her mercy – would treat you or your loved ones?  This is how we should treat everyone at all times.  We hope that even an enemy would treat us with human dignity, with respect, fairly, humanely.  Christ tells us to do better than that, for He commands us to love the enemy.

Christ’s teaching in Luke 6:27-36 is very straight forward, and yet rarely do those who claim to be staunch biblical literalists use this text as their starting point for defending the inerrancy of Scripture or as the basis for defending a literal reading of the Bible.  And perhaps instead of finding biblical texts against homosexuality to use against others, Christians should start with applying Luke 6:27-33 to themselves, literally and inerrantly as Christ commanded us to do.

Christ’s commandment to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” also occurs in the context of the world.  Several religious traditions have similar teachings as I saw on a poster once:

Buddhism:  Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

Judaism:  What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human.

Islam:  No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

Baha’i: Blessed is he who prefers his brother before himself.

If we take the Golden Rule out of its Gospel context, it appears to be nice aphorism, which many philosophers could embrace.   But in its context – sandwiched between the repeated commandment of Christ to “love your enemies” – we realize how radical these words of Christ are.  Christ is not saying to treat well those who treat you well or from whom you can expect goodness in return or who have already been good to you.  Christ is commanding us not to react to others at all, but to always treat others (even- no, stronger – especially strangers and enemies!) with and in love.  This isn’t just nice advice for how to get along with friends or to influence other people.  It is how to behave to be His disciple and to stay on the path to the Kingdom of God.

Let All You Do Be Done in Love

Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love.  (1 Corinthians 16:13)

“Those who have stood in these places of the spirit may ask in dismay, ‘Where are we to look for a criterion by which to distinguish genuine communion with God from delusion?’ Blessed Staretz Silouan explicitly asserted that we have such a criterion – love for enemies. He said, ‘The Lord is meek and humble, and loves His creature. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is humble love for enemies and prayer for the whole world. And if you do not have this love, ask and the Lord Who said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you” will grant it to you’” (Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Silouan the Athonite, pp. 162-163).  

Triumph Over Hatred

kronstadt“You hate your enemy? You are foolish. Why? Because if your enemy persecutes you, you also inwardly persecute yourself; for say, is it not persecution, and the most cruel persecution, to torture yourself by your hatred towards your enemy? Love your enemy, and you will be wise. O, if only you knew what a triumph, what blessedness it is to love your enemy, and to do good to him! So did the Son of God, so did God in the Holy Trinity, triumph, and still triumphs, through His love, over the ungrateful and evil-natured human race; so also did God’s saints triumph over their enemies, by loving them and doing good to them. ‘While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life‘ (Rom 5:10).” (St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, pp 62-63)

The amazing thing about God is that God reconciled Himself to us while we were still sinners.  God did not wait until we had repented or changed before working to establish peace with us.  If we are to love others as Christ loved us (John 13:34), then we aren’t to wait until others repent or change before forgiving them or being reconciled to them.  That is to love as Christ loved us.

Carrying the Peace of the Holy Spirit

“But the fruit of the Spirit is …. peace…” (Galatians 5:22)

St. Silouan the Athonite teaches us:

“But if we accustom ourselves to praying eagerly for our enemies, and loving them, peace will always dwell in our souls; whereas if we feel hatred toward our brethren, or find fault with them, our minds will be clouded and we shall lose our peace and the confidence to pray to God.  […]  The man who carries the peace of the Holy Spirit in his heart spreads peace around him, too; but he who has a malevolent spirit in him spreads evil.  […]

It is a great thing in the sight of God to pray for those who hurt our feelings and injure us; and for this the Lord will accord us grace, and by the Holy Spirit we shall come to know the Lord, and bear every affliction with joy for His sake, and the Lord will give us love for all the world, and we shall ardently desire the good of all men, and pray for all as for our own soul. The Lord bade us love our enemies, and the man who loves his enemies is like to the Lord.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, pp 316-317)

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  (Mark 11:25)

Loving Unbelievers

porphyrios“We shouldn’t be enraged by people who blaspheme or who speak and act against God and the Church. Such rage is harmful. We may hate the words and the malice behind them, but we must not hate the person who spoke them nor become enraged against him. Rather we should pray for him. A Christian has love and graciousness and should behave accordingly. Just as a hermit, who is seen by no one, benefits the world because the mystical waves of his prayers influence people and transmit the Holy Spirit into the world, so you, too, should scatter your love, without expecting anything in return – with love, patience and a smile…” (Wounded by Love: The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, p 184)

“Father, forgive them…”

Lord, Do Not Harden My Heart Against the Poor

St John of Kronstadt (d. 1908) prayed:

“Lord! Teach me to bestow charity willingly, kindly, joyfully, and to believe that by bestowing it I do not lose, but gain, infinitely more than that which I give. Turn my eyes away from hard-hearted people who do not sympathize with the poor, who meet poverty with indifference, who judge, reproach, brand it with shameful names, and weaken my heart, so that I may not do good, so that I, too, may harden my heart against poverty. O my Lord, how many such people we meet with!

Lord, amend works of charity! Lord, grant that every charity I bestow may be profitable, and may not do harm! Lord, accept Thyself charity in the person of Thy poor. Lord, deign to help me to build a house for the poor in this town, concerning which I have already many times prayed to Thee, the all-merciful, almighty, most wise, wonderful!” (A Treasure of Russian Spirituality, pp 404-405)

Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”* says the Lord.  Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Romans 12:17-21)

The Nativity Fast and Forgiveness

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) offers us some spiritual wisdom for the Nativity Lenten season.  Chrysostom acknowledges it is counter intuitive, but those who hurt and offend us actually benefit us on our journey to the kingdom.  How is this possible?  If we forgive them and are reconciled to them, Chrysostom says God forgives our sins simultaneously.  It is those who offend us who give us opportunity to practice the virtues of love, mercy and forgiveness.  Thus, he says, they become our benefactors as they are giving us opportunity to practice the Gospel commandments.   The people  who offend us give us the chance to behave like God.  Chrysostom thinks we ought to be grateful for the opportunities their bad behavior affords us!

“Consequently, I beseech you, let us keep this in mind and no longer bear to hold a grudge against those who have done us an injury or otherwise wronged us in some way, nor be badly disposed towards them; instead, let up consider of how much kindness and confidence for us with the Lord they prove to be instruments, and before all else the fact that reconciliation with those who injure us turns out to be a discharge of our sins. Thus let us show all enthusiasm and effort, and out of consideration of the gain accruing from this let us display as much care of those who injure us as if they were really our benefactors. In other words, if we look at things in the cold light of reason, those kindly disposed towards us and those anxious to serve our every need will not succeed in benefiting us a service of those others, which will render us deserving of favor from above and will lighten the load of our sins. Consider, dearly beloved, how important is this virtuous behavior to judge from the rewards promised by the God of all things to those who practice it.

He said, remember, ‘Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, pray for those who abuse you,’ since these directions were very demanding and aspiring to the very summit of perfection, he added, ‘so that you may be like your Father in heaven, because he makes his sun rise on good and evil, and sends rain on just and unjust.’ (Matthew 5:44-45)  Do you see whom that person resembles – as far as is humanly possible – who not only takes no vengeance on those who harm him, but even shows zeal in praying for them? Accordingly, let us not deprive ourselves through indifference of such gifts and rewards surpassing all description, but rather evince enthusiasm for this kind of virtue by every means and, by disciplining our thinking, respond to God’s command.” (Homilies on Genesis 18-45, pp 180-181)

Christ forgave His tormentors.