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Friar’s E-Spirations: Be Merciful—Just as the Father Is

Jesus’ Wise Command

There is a startling statement in Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon on the plain (6:36-38). He says, “Be merciful, just as your father is merciful.” We are to be, as Jesus says, “like the Father.”

We all limp through life with our failings; therefore, we can’t be the perfect image of God. But Jesus helps by advising that we watch what he does, listen to what he says, and we will find out how we can resemble the Father.

Jesus urges us to be merciful. And the motivation? God’s mercy toward us. But what’s strange is that we associate mercy with one who is superior to another. We think of a king being merciful to his subjects; a governor commuting a convict’s sentence from death to life without parole. We naturally ask the question, “How do we ordinary people become superior to others so that we can be merciful?” Actually, we can make ourselves superior to others in our own minds.

We Make Ourselves Superior

But how?

We do that most often by passing judgment on others. That is the temptation. We look around and judge ourselves to be better than others, and it seems like we have good evidence right before our eyes. After all, we are not terrorists, murderers, or con artists. In fact, we sincerely say with some degree of certitude, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I certainly could not do the things that he or she does.” Oh, no? The truth is we can!

Only Circumstances Make Us Different

If we all share the common humanity of being weak and wounded, how are we really different or better than others? The only difference between us and others are the circumstances of our lives. The reason we are not terrorists is that we were not born in a nation that is plagued by terrorism. But could we kill someone? Yes, of course. Put ourselves in a battlefield with a gun and we will kill. The circumstances in which we live allow us to live as we do, with God’s grace, of course. How much of our lives are actually beyond our control?

Jesus was wise to remind us that we are who we are because of the wonderful circumstances we have been born into. Others are not so fortunate. To judge them as though we know their circumstances puts us in a dangerous place: the judgment seat of God. Only God is wise enough to occupy such a place. We are better off taking our place in the same boat filled with people who, at their core, are not that much different than ourselves.

We receive mercy. We should also give it.

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you so much for your beautiful imagery of the Final Curtain. The word “final” often has such ominous and threatening associations with it. But when I think of the many live performances I’ve been blessed to attend throughout my life, the final curtain was the exciting culmination of everything brought before the audience for one last time. It was definitely a positive experience and I was never sad or regretful as everyone slowly left their seats. It’s a happy, good, and refreshed feeling that remains as everyone exits. I’ll never look at Christ’s coming again on the last day in the same way. Thank you for making such an awesome, soulful comparison for your flock of readers! Diana

Dear Friar Jack: I love your analogy of life being like a drama that we all play a part in until the end of the “play” when Christ comes to take the final bow. That is something I’m going to share with my 14-year-old. She loves acting and has done several different plays and is currently in a drama class. Maybe she’ll understand life in a more meaningful way. GH

Dear Friar Jack: What a wonderful close to a terrific treatment of Duns Scotus. I feel like you brought this holy man to life for a modern audience. I have printed out the three parts and have shared them with family and friends. Thanks again for your thoughtful writing and deep faith. Charles

Dear Friar Jack: I was raised by secular Franciscans and have heard stories of Scotus growing up. I fell away from the Church for many years but, since turning 40, I have reclaimed my faith and my devotion to Franciscan ideals. This E-spiration came at such an important time. My love for Franciscanism is growing, thanks in part to your writings on this holy and perhaps little-known friar. Samantha

A: Dear Diana, GH, Charles, and Samantha: You have pleased me immensely with your positive responses to my thoughts on John Duns Scotus. Even though Scotus was beatified in 1993, he is not a well-known Franciscan friar. Your kind responses are making him better known, along with publications such as this three-part series, which you have commented on. Thanks for making Blessed John Duns Scotus better known! God bless you and all the readers of Friar Jack’s E-spirations! Friar Jack