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BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL (Mt 5:7) – HOW MERCIFUL DO WE NEED TO BE?

Blessed are the merciful

“You probably would feel quite offended if someone were to describe you as a cruel person. Yet, can you truthfully say that you never have caused unnecessary pain to another? You never have harshly criticised another, humiliated another or made cutting remarks to another? If you can answer, ‘Never’ (or even ‘Seldom’) to all such questions, then you are indeed close to the heart of Christ. ‘Blessed are the merciful,’ He has said, ‘for they shall obtain mercy.’

Vigilance, lest power corrupt in us the spirit of mercy

Few of us are so accomplished in this matter of mercy that we can afford to assume that we are included in our Lord’s blessing. Those of us who are in any position of authority, such as employers, supervisors, officials, teachers and religious superiors, have particular need to be vigilant lest power corrupt in us the spirit of mercy. It is so easy to be caustic towards those who cannot strike back.

Having others ‘at our mercy’

Failure in mercy is not confined, of course, to persons explicitly in positions of authority. There are many ways of having others ‘at our mercy’. We have the upper hand, for example, any time we enter a store or a restaurant. Since the customer is always right, clerks, waiters and managers must bear with our discourtesies in silent helplessness.

Often we inflict the deepest pain upon those we love

Often we inflict the deepest pain upon those who are bound to us by love. A husband snarls at his wife or a wife screams at her husband. Sometimes parents excoriate their children out of all proportion, making a capital offence of what is, at worst, a minor misdemeanor.

Venting our anger on the next best person

More often than not, the reason why we are grumpy or snappish toward another is because we have bottled-up feelings of resentment or frustration which press for ventilation. A teacher who has just been reprimanded by his principal, for example, will land like a charge of dynamite on the first pupil who steps out of line in the least degree. Nine-tenths of our temper explosions really do not belong at all to the hapless person who is rocked by our anger. Our victim simply happens to be the nearest and most defenceless object upon whom we can discharge our emotional pressure.

Reacting savagely to minor annoyances

Sometimes it is nervous fatigue or physical distress (such as a headache) which causes us to react savagely to minor annoyances. Like a sick animal, we growl and bare our teeth at anyone, however innocent, who happens to cross our path.

A gentleman never gives pain

Cardinal Newman has described a gentleman as one who never gives pain. A gentleman bears his own inner hurts and tensions with fortitude and does not visit them upon others. It is an infallible sign of a small mind and a weak character when a person is discourteous toward those over whom he has some advantage.

There are times, of course, when a person in authority must administer an admonition or a rebuke. Yet, even this can be done with gentleness and tact. It is so much better to say, ‘You are doing a fine job, George, but there is one small thing which I feel I should call to your attention,’ than to shout, ‘You stupid fool! See what you’ve done!’…

Our Lord Jesus singled out the virtue of mercifulness for special attention

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.’ It is no wonder that Jesus singled out the virtue of mercifulness for such special attention. This is the one virtue above all others which characterises Himself. His patience, His allowance for human weakness, His compassion, His quickness to forgive – all combine to give us confidence as we pray to Him, ‘Lord, have mercy!’

The people whose lives touch ours have enough suffering already. It is inexcusable if we add to their hurt by our discourtesy, ill-temper and vindictiveness. If we cannot be gentle, patient and forgiving toward one another, then Jesus has a right to ask, ‘What price My crucifixion? Was it, then, all in vain?'”

– Fr Leo J. Trese, One Step Enough

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Words of Wisdom

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: THE LORD OF LIFE

THE TEN LEPERS

“While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He entered a certain village and ten lepers called out to Him, ‘Jesus, master, have pity on us’ (Luke 17:13). Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. While they were on their way to the priests, they were cured of their leprosy. Only one of them was grateful enough to return to Jesus to thank Him, and this one was a Samaritan.

WHEN IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD COMING?

As He was on His way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees came once again to try Him. They asked Him, ‘When is the kingdom of God coming?’ (Luke 17:20). Since Jesus had been preaching the arrival of the kingdom for some time, it is clear that the Pharisees were expecting something more striking than Jesus had already manifested. His works, His miracles were not apparently enough for them. No doubt they were expecting some great cosmic phenomena to manifest the tremendous power of God, or perhaps some great divine sign against the Romans, their oppressors.

SOME GREAT COSMIC PHENOMENA?

Jesus, knowing their desire for some external manifestation of divine power against the Romans, said to them, ‘The kingdom of God comes unawares. Neither will they say, ‘Behold, here it is,’ or ‘Behold, there it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17: 20-21). The meaning of Jesus is clear. The Pharisees were expecting the kingdom to begin with the liberation of the Jews from the domination of the Romans. This would demand some triumphant victory of the Jews over the Romans. The power of God would be manifested on the side of His Chosen People. The might of God would cast down into the dust the might of the greatest empire the world had ever known. But Jesus had not come to establish a world empire. So He told the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God had already come; it had come without the pomp and eclat of an earthly kingdom. It had already come; it was being established in their midst. But it had come quietly, for it was not to be a great political kingdom; it was meant to rule the hearts and souls of men, and it had already begun in the hearts of those who had given their allegiance to Jesus.

HE WOULD COME AGAIN SUDDENLY, IN POWER AND IN GLORY

This thought of the modest beginnings of His kingdom gave way in the mind of Jesus to the thought of His final coming at the end of the world to judge all men. “The days will come,’ He said, ‘when you will long to see one day of the Son of Man, and will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Behold, here he is; behold, there he is.’ Do not go, nor follow after them. For as the lightning when it lightens flashes from one end of the sky to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation’ (Luke 17:22-25).

These words Jesus addressed to His own disciples. He had come to men now in humility, but He would come again at the end of the world; He would come suddenly, in power and glory. Though men would be watching for His coming and pretending to find Him, He would come unexpectedly, swiftly, at a moment when they did not expect Him.

MANY WILL BE UNPREPARED FOR HIS SECOND COMING

The heart of Jesus is not entirely joyful at the thought of His triumph at the end of the world. He warns His disciples that many will be unprepared for His coming and will be lost. Just as no one heeded the warnings of Noe [Noah]; just as people went on wining and dining and sinning right up to the moment of the flood which destroyed them, so also will men be up to the moment when Jesus comes to judge them. At the end, then, many will still be forgetful of the Kingdom of God and so will be lost.

PERSISTING IN PRAYER TO GOD

Jesus then tells a parable to encourage His disciples to remain steadfast in their allegiance to Him and to His kingdom. A poor widow sought justice from an unjust judge. For a while he refused to render a verdict in her favour. But she persisted in coming to him. Finally, worn out by her pleas, the judge gave her a favourable verdict. The widow’s persistence had finally won justice. So also the disciples of Jesus must persist in prayer to God. If they do, their faith will triumph in the end. Then the eyes of Jesus turn once again to the end of the world and He remarks sadly, ‘Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find, do you think, faith on the earth?’ (Luke 18:8). Jesus knows that not all men will become His faithful disciples, not all men will enter His kingdom. And perhaps at the end His followers will be only a few among the many.

LORD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER

On this same journey Jesus told also the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. Both went into the Temple to pray. The Pharisee took pride in his own virtue and, in his prayer, called God’s attention to the fact that he was not like other men a sinner. The publican, on the other hand, stood afar off, struck his breast in repentance and asked God to be merciful to a sinner. Jesus then pointed out that the humility of the publican was more pleasing to God than the pride and complacency of the Pharisee.

WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, LET NO MAN PUT ASUNDER

It was during this same journey to Jerusalem that Jesus gave His position on the questions of separation of spouses and divorce. The Pharisees asked Him directly if it were ever lawful for a man to separate from his wife. First of all Jesus laid down the law of the indissolubility of the marriage bond: ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). When the Pharisees objected that Moses had allowed the separation and divorce of spouses, Jesus replied that while it might be allowed to separate from a wife who was unfaithful, this separation did not dissolve the marriage bond, and neither the man nor the wife were allowed to remarry while the other spouse was alive. ‘Whosoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another, commits adultery’ (Matthew 19:9).

DON’T HINDER LITTLE CHILDREN TO COME TO ME

On another occasion the people were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them. The disciples, probably afraid that Jesus might be wearied by this, sought to prevent the parents from so acting. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it’ (Luke 18:16-17). Men must not approach the Kingdom of God filled with pride in themselves, but rather as little children, innocent and humble, seeking only to receive the riches of eternal life.

THE RICH YOUNG MAN

Soon after, a rich young man, attracted to Jesus, came to Him and asked, ‘Good Master, what shall I do to gain eternal life?’ Jesus told him that he must keep the commandments of God. The young man replied that he had done this all his life. Perceiving his good will, Jesus then said, ‘One thing is still lacking to thee; sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me’ (Luke 28:22). Jesus was giving this young man the chance to practise heroic virtue. He was even offering him the chance to become a favoured disciple. But the young man could not find it in his heart to part with his possessions, and so he left Jesus.

IT IS EASIER FOR A CAMEL TO PASS THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE…

This young man’s attachment to his wealth led Jesus to remark how difficult it was for the rich to love God wholeheartedly. ‘With what difficulty will they who have riches enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Luke 18:24-25). The disciples were astonished at His words. ‘Who then can be saved?’ the asked. But Jesus told them that God could save even the rich: ‘Things that are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Luke 18:27).

MANY WHO ARE FIRST NOW WILL BE LAST

This led Peter to say hopefully, ‘Behold, we have left all and followed thee’ (Luke 18:28). Jesus rewarded his hope. ‘Amen I say to you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel’s sake, who shall not receive now in the present time a hundredfold as much, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands – along with persecutions, and in the age to come life everlasting. But many who are first now will be last, and many who are last now will be first’ (Mark 10:29-31).

Jesus promised that those who loved Him would be taken care of in this world and, even more, they would receive life everlasting. But they would also be despised in this world and suffer persecution. But, at the end, those who had persecuted them and looked down upon them would be last, and the followers of Jesus would take the first places.

THE PARABLE OF THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD

Then, and perhaps to emphasise the gratuitousness of God’s gifts to men, Jesus told the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The owner of a vineyard hires labourers at the beginning of the day to work in his vineyard. Then about nine o’clock, again at noon and three, and just before evening he hired others to work also. He agreed to pay all a penny for their work. When the day was over he paid all the penny agreed upon. But those who had come early complained that they did not receive more than those who had come late. The owner of the vineyard told them that he had treated all with justice, for he had given all the sum agreed upon. If he chose to give the same sum to those who had worked less, that was due, not to injustice, but to his generosity. ‘Have I not a right to do what I choose?’ he asks. ‘Or art thou envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15)

God is not unjust to anyone, Jesus was saying. But His mercy to men was a free gift on His part. And in the mystery of His mercy He might give life everlasting even to those who had turned to Him only at the end of their lives. This should not cause those who had laboured long for life everlasting to complain. In fact, their complaints might show that they were less worthy of the divine mercy themselves. Hence Jesus concludes, ‘Even so the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen’ (Matthew 20:16).

THROUGH IT THE SON OF MAN MAY BE GLORIFIED

When Jesus was about a day’s journey from the village of Bethany, word was brought to Him from Mary and Martha in Bethany that their brother Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, was sick. Jesus loved Lazarus. But He did not hasten to Bethany to take care of him. ‘This sickness,’ He said, ‘is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that through it the Son of God may be glorified’ (John 11:4). Jesus waited two days and then said to His disciples, ‘Let us go again into Judea’ (John 11:7).

TOO DANGEROUS TO GO?

The disciples objected to His going because opposition to Him was strong in Judea. But Jesus, knowing that His hour was not yet come, insisted on going to aid Lazarus. ‘Lazarus, our friend, sleeps,’ He said, ‘but I go that I may wake him from sleep’ (John 11:11). Taking His words literally the disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will be safe’ (John 11:12). Jesus then informed them that Lazarus was, in fact, dead. Thomas, the Apostle, seeing that Jesus was determined to go, said to the others, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’ At this moment Thomas was ready to die with Jesus at the hands of the enemies of Jesus.

LAZARUS HAD ALREADY BEEN BURIED FOR FOUR DAYS

When Jesus arrived at Bethany Lazarus had already been buried for four days. Martha, on hearing of His coming, went to meet Him. ‘Lord,’ she said to Him, ‘if thou hadst been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever thou shalt ask of God, God will give it to thee’ (John 11:21-22). Jesus said to her, ‘Thy brother shall rise.’ Martha replied, ‘I know that he will rise at the resurrection, on the last day.’ Then Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even if he die, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die. Dost thou believe this?’ And Martha said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who hast come into the world (John 11:23-27).

Then Martha went to summon Mary. Some of the village dwellers followed Martha and Mary out to Jesus. Martha and Mary took Jesus to the tomb where Lazarus was buried. Some of the villagers murmured, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that this man should not die?’ (John 11:37).

LAZARUS, COME FORTH!

At the tomb Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, fearing the odour of the decaying body, said, ‘Lord, by this time he is already decayed, for he is dead four days.’ Jesus said, ‘Have I not told thee that if thou believe thou shalt behold the glory of God?’ The stone was then removed from the mouth of the tomb. Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and said, ‘Father, I give thee thanks that thou always hearest me; but because of the people who stand round, I spoke, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.’ After saying this, He cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ And at once Lazarus, who had been dead, came out of the tomb, still bound hands and feet in the burial bandages. Jesus commanded the bystanders to remove the bindings.

BY HIS APPREARANCE THERE HE WAS COURTING DESTRUCTION

The resurrection of Lazarus is one of the greatest of the miracles worked by Jesus. It is the third resurrection brought about by the power of Jesus. He had already restored life to the son of the widow at Naim and to the daughter of Jairus. In all three of these miracles Jesus had showed Himself to be the Lord of life. He proved the truth of His words, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ But, in the story of the resurrection, as told by John, there seems to be apparent an atmosphere of greater urgency and appeal than in the other miracles of Jesus. Jesus, against the urgings of His disciples, has come into Judea, the stronghold of His enemies. By His appearance there He was courting destruction. Yet He had insisted upon coming. It is as if He knew that His time was short, drawing rapidly to a close. He would, therefore, work a great miracle, right in the midst of those who were refusing to accept Him. It would be a strong appeal for their acceptance, one more effort to gain their good will.

That Jesus meant this miracle to be one of great importance in His mission is shown by His behaviour. He refuses to go at once to the aid of Lazarus because He knows that God wishes to manifest His glory through the resurrection of Lazarus. He realises that He Himself will be glorified by this miracle. He waits until Lazarus has been dead for some days before He goes to Bethany. Before working the miracle He demands from the sisters of Lazarus a confession of faith in Himself. And Martha acknowledges Him as the Messias, in fact, as the Son of God. Again, before working the miracle, Jesus says that it will happen, it will come to pass through the power of God so that men may believe that He has been sent by God, has come from God. And, lest there be any doubt about the reality of the resurrection, He commands that some of the bystanders unbind the risen Lazarus. He wished all to be convinced of the fact that He was the Lord of life, the giver of life.

JESUS HAD ASKED MEN TO ACCEPT HIM AS THE GIVER OF LIFE

Jesus had come into the world to give men eternal life, eternal life in the Kingdom of God. This was God’s greatest boon to mankind. He had asked men to accept Him as the giver of this life, the Anointed One of God, the Messias for whom they were waiting. He had worked miracles to prove His claim, to gain their faith. Some had followed Him. But many had rejected Him, and among these were the leaders of the people, the priests, the Scribes and the Pharisees. Now, in the resurrection of Lazarus, He would give them an unmistakable proof of His power and of His identity. By raising Lazarus back to life, Jesus showed Himself clearly to be the Messias, to be even more, the very Son of God, the Lord of life. By restoring to Lazarus the life of His body, Jesus showed Himself to be the Lord of eternal life. Those who accepted Him as such, would live forever in the Kingdom of God, and on the last day they would rise even in the body.

THEY RESOLVED TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH

That the resurrection of Lazarus was a decisive moment in the earthly life of Jesus is shown by its effects. Some of those who witnessed it believed in Him. But others, still opposed to Him, went to the Pharisees and reported His success to them. The priests and the Pharisees, instead of being convinced of His claims, called a council to decide what to do about Him. They refused to accept Him as the Messias, and so they could see in Him only a threat to their own power and position. They forgot that Jesus was not interested in an earthly kingdom. They feared that He might lead a rebellion against the Romans and so bring down on them the wrath of the Romans. Caiphas, the high priest that year, remarked cynically, ‘it is expedient for us that one man die for the people, instead of the whole nation perishing’ (John 11:50). The council of the Jews thereupon resolved to put Jesus to death.

GOD WAS USING HIS PLANS TO BRING ABOUT THE TRIUMPH OF JESUS

Although Caiphas was seeking his own ends in this decision, his words, in God’s sight, had a prophetic import. Caiphas was saying that it was better to put Jesus to death before a rebellion against the Romans broke out, so that the nation, and especially its ruling classes, should not suffer. But, as St John remarks, Caiphas was an unwitting prophet in the hands of God, for Jesus was to die not only to save His own nation but so that He might gather into one all the children of God throughout the world (John 11:51-52). Caiphas thought that he was planning the death of Jesus, but God was using his plans to bring about the triumph of Jesus.”

– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959

 

 

 

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THE SALVATION HISTORY OF ALL MEN AS REVEALED IN THE BIBLE: OUR GOD OF MERCY

“JESUS SAID: ‘I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE.'(John 10:30)

About … the month of December, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Feast of the Dedication. While teaching in Solomon’s porch at the Temple, He was asked, ‘How long doest thou keep us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us openly’ (John 10:24). Jesus answered, ‘I tell you and you do not believe. The works that I do in the name of my Father, these bear witness concerning me. But you do not believe because you are not of my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life, and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch anything out of the hand of my Father. I and the Father are one’ (John 10:25-30).

JESUS DID NOT SAY SIMPLY: ‘I AM THE MESSIAH.’

Jesus does no reply simply, ‘I am the Messias for whom you have been waiting.’ Instead He appeals to His works, that is, His miracles. These are a divine testimony to Himself; they reveal His identity; in them God the Father manifests His Son. But the Jews have not been willing to accept Jesus as their Christ and hence theu have not perceived the inner meaning of His works or His words. Still, as Jesus tells them, the Father has given some the power to believe in Jesus. These are His sheep; they hear His voice and follow Him, and He gives them everlasting life. Nor will anyone be able to take this everlasting life away from them, for the will and the power of God the Father will keep them safe. The same power belongs also to Jesus Himself, for He and the Father are one.

JESUS WAS SPEAKING IN TERMS OF THE HOLY TRINITY

The Jews who were listening to Jesus may not have understood all He said, but this last statement aroused them. While Jesus was distinguishing Himself from His Father, as two distinct Persons, nevertheless He was also claiming unity with the Father as God. While it was probably not clear to the Jews that Jesus was speaking in terms of the doctrine now known as the doctrine of the Trinity, they still saw enough of His meaning to realise that He was claiming an equality with God.

Now the one thing which the Jews had finally learned through their long experience of dealing with Jahweh was the unity or oneness of God. It was also clear to them that Jesus was a Man. They were familiar, too, with the pagan tendency to make men gods. The latter notion, with its overtones of Polytheism and idolatry, was abhorrent to them. They understood Jesus in this sense and took up stones to put Him to death for blasphemy.

THEY WANTED TO PUT JESUS TO DEATH FOR BLASPHEMY

To soften their wrath Jesus tried to lead them more gently to an understanding and acceptance of His claim. He pointed out to them that the Israelites had been called ‘gods’ in their own Sacred Books. This was because by their covenant with Jahweh they had become the ‘sons of God.’ Now His thought continues, if they, who are quite ordinary men, men who have never performed the works which Jesus has performed, can with justice be called the ‘sons of God,’ why should they object because Jesus, who performs divine works, calls Himself the ‘Son of God’? This might have seemed to them as if Jesus were watering down His previous claim to equality with God. But when He added, ‘the Father is in me and I in the Father,’ then they realised that He was still making the same claim. They determined to seize Him and, perhaps, deliver Him over to the magistrates on the charge of blasphemy. But Jesus escaped from them.

THEY WERE EXPECTING A POLITICAL MESSIAH

Thus, once again, the people were given the chance to accept Jesus as the Christ, but they would not. Why did not Jesus reveal Himself to them as clearly as He had already done to His own disciples? Many explanations are possible, and all are perhaps, in their way, true. The people were awaiting the Messias, but they were expecting a political Messias who would lead them to glory against their political enemies. They had not as yet, in any large numbers, heeded the call of Jesus to personal repentance for sin; they had not perceived the spirituality of the kingdom which He had come to establish. If He had said simply that He was the Messias, they might have tried to rise in rebellion against the Roman authorities, trusting in the power of Jesus to lead them to victory. But Jesus, with no intention of leading such a rebellion, refused to give the occasion for such a foolhardy attempt.

JESUS REFUSED TO FOSTER THIS SPIRIT OF WORLDLINESS

Besides, as this incident shows, Jesus was claiming to be not only the Messias but something much higher, something even more mysterious and harder to accept. He was the Messias, but He was also God; distinct from God the Father as His Son, but one with Him in the unity of the Godhead. Jesus wished to be accepted not simply as the Messias but also as God Himself.

If He had acknowledged simply that He was the Messias, perhaps the people, filled with their worldly dreams of political freedom and domination, might have seen in Him no more than a great political and military leader. Jesus refused to foster this spirit of worldliness. Instead He reminded them that He has come to give men, not temporal prosperity but everlasting life, the life which only God could give them. That it was difficult for the Jews to accept His teaching cannot be denied. But the way was open to them. They had seen or heard of the miraculous works of Jesus. These were a divine testimony to the truth of His teachings, of His claims. If they would believe in Him because of His works, then they would lay hold on everlasting life.

MORE THAN JUST A GREAT POLITICAL AND MILITARY LEADER

After this incident Jesus left Jerusalem and went into Perea. One day, while He was teaching the people, someone asked Him, ‘Lord, are only a few to be saved?’ (Luke 13:23).

Jesus replied, ‘Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who enter that way. How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it’ (Matthew 7:13-14). The answer of Jesus is figurative. But this much seems evident. Since salvation, or eternal life with God, is the goal of human life, men must find salvation by seeking God instead of the many opportunities for pleasure and happiness in this world. They must enter the narrow road of using the world, not for themselves alone but to find God. This involves the renunciation of the world or detachment from the world for the sake of God.

THE NARROW GATE

But the world and the pleasures of the world are like a wide gate and a wide road; their very wideness and apparent spaciousness are appealing. Many men, misled by their broad and gracious vistas, will set out on the road of the world and will mistake this world for God, their true goal. Many therefore will follow the wide path to destruction, and only a few will follow the narrow road to eternal life.

SALVATION, ETERNAL LIFE WITH GOD, IS THE GOAL OF HUMAN LIFE

Jesus goes on to speak more particularly of the salvation of the Jews and the Gentiles of the world. The kingdom of heaven is like a house. After a certain number of guests have entered, the master of the house closes the doors. Then others come and demand admittance. But the householder refuses to let them enter. They appeal to him, saying that they have eaten with Him in the past, listened to His teachibg, prophesied in His name, even cast out devils in His name. But the householder replies, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me all you workers of iniquity’ (Luke 13:27). Through the door (or perhaps a window) those outside can see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and a great company of peoples from the East and the West, from all the nations of the earth, feasting with the householder.

PEOPLE OF ALL NATIONS ARE ADMITTED INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

In these words Jesus repeats something He has said before. The Jews, the Chosen People of God, the people among whom Jesus Himself has lived and with whom He has broken bread, will reject Jesus and be cast out of the kingdom of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the other nations of the world will accept Jesus and be accepted into the kingdom of heaven.

DISTURBANCES BY JESUS’ PREACHING?

The Pharisaical opposition to Jesus may not have been so bitter or so strong in Perea as it was in Judea and Galilee. Herod, the ruler of Galilee, heard that Jesus was in Perea, which he also ruled. Fearful that Jesus might, by His preaching there, cause disturbances among the people, and moved perhaps by his superstitious fear that Jesus might be John the Baptist returned to life, Herod determined to put Jesus to death. Some of the Pharisees learning of this came to Jesus and told Him to depart from the land so as to escape the designs of Herod. Or, if their opposition to Jesus was as strong as it was elsewhere, it might be that Herod used them to induce Jesus to leave Perea. At any rate, Jesus, knowing that His mission would come to an end at the moment willed by God, refused to go. ‘Go and say to that fox,’ He said, ‘Behold, I cast out devils and perform cures today and tomorrow and the third day I am to end my course. Nevertheless, I must go my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it cannot be that a prophet perish outside Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33).

Jesus, then, would continue to teach and work miracles in Perea until it was time to go to Jerusalem to give His life for the fulfilment of God’s plan.

PRACTICAL LESSONS ON THE NEED OF HUMILITY AND SELFLESS LOVE

While in Perea the old difficulty with the Pharisees recurred again. One Sabbath day Jesus was dining in the house of one of the Pharisees. A man came who had dropsy. Jesus asked the Pharisees if it were lawful to cure on the Sabbath. When they refused to answer, Jesus cured the man, and then reminded them that even they would go to aid an ass or an ox which might fall into a pit on the Sabbath.

Jesus then proceeded to give practical lessons on the need of humility and selfless love. He had observed how the guests in the house had each striven to sit as near the host as possible, so as to gain greater honour for themselves. He pointed out to them that it was better to seek a place lower down, in fact, the last place. Then they would not be embarrassed if the host were to ask them to give way to some guest more distinguished than themselves. On the other hand if they took the last place, then perhaps the host, recognising their real merits, might ask them to go up higher. In this way Jesus intimated to the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their favour in the sight of God, that God would be more pleased with them if they had a humbler estimate of their own virtues and faithfulness to God.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

He was conscious that the Pharisees, because they felt themselves to be loyal and generous to God, expected great rewards from God. Their love of God was not an unselfish love. They loved God because they wished rewards from Him. Jesus attacked this selfishness by telling another parable. When you give a dinner, He said, do not invite only your friends and relatives and the rich of the neighbourhood. When you do only this, then they, because they are rich, will return the invitation and so you will be rewarded. But rather invite those who can give you no return, the poor and the afflicted. Then you will receive a reward at the resurrection of the just.

GOD ACCOMPLISHES HIS PLANS IN HIS OWN WAY

This led one of the guests to say, ‘Blessed is he who shall feast in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 14:15).

The mention of the Kingdom of God induced Jesus to remind the Pharisees again that they were in danger of being excluded from God’s kingdom. The Pharisees, because they were zealous in the fulfilment of the Law of Moses, were certain that they, above all others, would sit in the Kingdom of God. But they were, as a class, refusing to recognise God’s Anointed One, Jesus. This refusal, if they persisted in it, would lose for them the glory which they expected.

Jesus tells them the parable of the great man who gave a great feast and invited many. But those invited refused to attend. Each one found some worldly excuse for his refusal. The host then sent his servant to bring to the feast the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, even the poor of the countryside, until all the places at the table were filled. ‘For I tell you,’ he said, ‘that none of those who were invited shall taste my supper’ (Luke 14:24).

The Pharisees expected to sit down in the final Kingdom of God. In this parable Jesus was warning them that their preoccupation with the things of this present life would lead them to refuse God’s invitation. In their place God would fill His kingdom with people whom they themselves despised. God’s plan was not theirs, and God would accomplish His plan in His way, not in their way.

TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING RATHER THAN LOSING GOD

On another occasion Jesus teaches the people what they must do, if they are to enter the Kingdom of God. ‘If anyone,’ He says, ‘comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And he who does not carry his cross, cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:25-27).

Now Jesus does not mean that hatred of one’s relatives and of one’s own life is the key to membership in the Kingdom of God. He means that a man must so love God that he is prepared to give up everything rather than lose God. He must love God so much that he will, if necessary, give up even his life for the sake of God.

BEWARE OF SELFISH DESIRES FOR THE PASSING GOODS OF THIS WORLD

Moreover this total dedication to God must persevere throughout life. It must, therefore, be made deliberately, with knowledge of what it entails. The man who dedicates himself to God by following Christ must not be like the builder of the tower who lays the foundation of the tower without knowing how much he will need to finish the whole tower. If he has not estimated how much material he will need, he may find himself forced to stop building before he has completed his work. The follower of Jesus must realise from the beginning that he must be ready to give up everything to follow Jesus. If he sets out to follow Jesus with a divided heart, a heart not totally dedicated to God, he may find that his selfish desires for the passing goods of this world will lead him to desert Jesus before he has reached the goal of the eternal Kingdom of God.

GOD’s TENDER LOVE FOR MEN

Among those listening to Jesus were many sinners, sinners at least in the eyes of the Pharisees. The latter murmured that Jesus welcomed sinners, as if that were a proof that He Himself could not be good. In reply Jesus told them three parables in which He pointed out that God, in His love for men, rejoiced in the conversion of sinners. Will not the shepherd, He asked them, who has lost one of his sheep, go in search of it and rejoice when he has found it? Will not a woman who has lost one small coin search for it until she has found it, and rejoice when she has recovered it? So also God and the angels rejoice when even one sinner repents.

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON

These two parables are followed by the parable of the Prodigal Son, a tender parable of God’s mercy to the repentant sinner. A father had two sons. The younger son had so ardent a desire to taste the pleasures of the world that he could not wait for his father to die and leave him his inheritance. He asked his father for his share at once. The father granted his request. Then the younger son went to a far country where he squandered his wealth in loose living. He was finally reduced to the lowly task of swineherd and was not even as well fed as the swine he tended. Then he remembered his father’s tender love for him and he resolved to return home and ask forgiveness, even if it meant that his father might make him only a servant in the household. But, on his return, his father welcomed him with open arms, dressed him in the finest clothes and prepared a great feast for him. This made the elder brother, who had remained at home working soberly and industriously, jealous and he refused to attend the feast. But the father said to him, ‘Son, thou art always with me, and all that is mine is thine. But we were bound to make merry and rejoice, for this thy brother was dead, and has come to life; he was lost, and is found’ (Luke 15:31-32).

God’s love for sinners is like the love of the father for his prodigal son. If the son will but turn to God, his Father, in repentance, then God will receive him with open arms and readmit him to the fullness of his Father’s life. The just, who have remained faithful to God, must not be jealous of the salvation of the sinner. God’s wealth is so great that the favours He restores to sinners are not taken away from the just. Rather, the just, because they identify their wills with the will of God, will rejoice at the conversion of every sinner.

THE PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD

About this time Jesus, apparently in the presence of the Pharisees, explained to His disciples how they were to regard the goods of this world, especially money, the symbol of the goods of the world. A certain man, He said, had a steward who squandered his master’s possessions. The master on learning of this asked him to account for his stewardship. The steward, realising that he would lose his high position, and desirous of still living well, sent for all those who owed money to his master and gave them new contracts decreasing the amount of their debts. Thus, when he was discharged by his master, the friends he had gained by lowering their debts received him into their houses.

Jesus does not commend the steward for his unjust actions. But He remarks that the unjust steward, whose sole concern was for money, knew how to deal with others, who were also afflicted only with a love of money, so that he did not lose what he desired. Then Jesus points the lesson. Those who love God must be as wise in their search for God as are those who love money in their search for money. They must be prepared to give up everything else in order to be received into God’s everlasting dwelling.

The reference to money in this parable leads Jesus to an even more important lesson. The good things of this world have been given by God to men to lead them to God. Men are only the stewards of God in the employment and use of the goods of the world. This is especially true of money. Therefore men must use money in such wise that it does not take them away from God. Men cannot serve both God and mammon, that is, they cannot dedicate themselves totally to both or partially to both. They must dedicate themselves only to God. Money they must use in subordination to their dedication to God. If their love for money were to draw them away from God, they would fail to achieve their true destiny, union with God.

This attitude of detachment toward money disturbed the Pharisees. They loved money. They believed that God would give prosperity to the Chosen People, above all to themselves, who were so zealous to observe the Mosaic Law. The words of Jesus displeased them and they began to sneer at them.

THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

Jesus answered them in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man dressed in fine clothes and dined well each day. But Lazarus, the poor man, lived only on crumbs which were thrown away from the table of the rich man. But the rich man was evil, and when he died, he went to hell. Lazarus, on the other hand, was good, and when he died, he was received into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man asked Abraham to allow Lazarus to come down and slake his thirst. Abraham replied that this was now impossible. The rich man asked then that Lazarus might return to life and warn the rich man’s brothers. But Abraham replied that his brothers had the Law of Moses and the Prophets, as he himself had had. If they would not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they would not listen even to a man who had returned from the grave.

DEDICATING ONESELF WHOLEHEARTEDLY TO GOD

In this parable Jesus sought to teach the Pharisees that God’s love and mercy did not depend on wealth. Wealth was not an infallible sign of God’s favour. Nor did God promise His kingdom only to the wealthy. But He rewarded men with eternal life because of their goodness. God’s mercy is extended to all those, whether rich or poor, who repent of their sins and dedicate themselves to God.

Shortly after this Jesus began His last journey to Jerusalem. But, while in Perea, He had given the world the great doctrine of God’s mercy. Men are sinners. They have deserted God for the pleasures and power of this world. But, if they will repent, if they will resolve to use this world only for the love of God, if they will follow Christ wholeheartedly, giving up all rather than lose God, then God will pardon them their sins and receive them once again as His beloved sons.

 

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