Cleansing the Temple Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1875
Guest Post By: Ashley Blackburn
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” – Matthew 9:13
Have we turned this very beautiful phrase said by Jesus into an excuse for tolerance? Mercy and tolerance are two very separate things. Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke about tolerance, calling it “an attitude of reasoned patience toward evil.” He goes on to say “tolerance applies only to persons… never to the truth.” There is one truth. It is absolute and everlasting. It is in all things because it created all things and it will forever be. The question is, do we believe in it, do we trust in it, do we recognize God through it?
The devil knows that the path of truth is straight and narrow. He is the one who clouds the road and provides many opportunities for us to turn off the straight path. He leads us down unclear roads with many turns; roads that eventually lead to destruction. But God is always with us and he makes good out of all things. He constantly invites us back on the straight path of his truth through his abundant mercy. We must keep our eyes on Christ and let him lead us.
Often times we choose certain truths to follow and others to deny; mainly the ones that are seemingly too hard to understand and/or to follow. In our struggle with these truths we oftentimes don’t think to turn to God, asking for him to reveal to us a better understanding of the truth. Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Jesus was telling us something so much deeper here than asking for what we want or need in prayer. He was showing us how to ask him to lead us into a deeper understanding and communion with himself, in which Jesus is the fullness of the truth. In this passage, Jesus is telling us to turn to him when we get stuck, when we don’t understand something, when we are confused by the cloudiness, when our hearts are restless, and when the seeds of doubt enter our minds. The promise made to us is that Jesus is ever-willing and ready to draw us closer to himself, but we have to ASK him to do so. He will never force us into deeper communion with him, it must be our desire as well.
In our world, certain situations cloud the truth and in our limited understanding of God’s mercy we turn to tolerance as a means to show love and acceptance for all God’s children. This cloudiness creates a situation where in our desire to love our neighbor, we in turn accept sinfulness by way of tolerance. Jesus specifically commands us to love our neighbor, but he does not at any time command us to tolerate sin. Through his abundant mercy, he forgives those who seek mercy, as well as those who seek mercy for another. What we do not find anywhere in the Gospels is Jesus forgiving those who are not seeking forgiveness. Just take a look at the Pharisees, they no less needed God’s mercy than anyone else he encountered. The difference is they did not believe they needed his mercy and so they were not open to receiving it. Jesus would have readily forgiven any one of them if they would have turned to him and asked for forgiveness.
God’s mercy is abundant. God’s mercy is for all humanity. God’s mercy is always available, complete and necessary for our salvation. It is HIS deepest desire that we receive his mercy and so he is unconditionally generous in the outpouring of mercy. But what we oftentimes miss is that God’s mercy requires an open receiver in order to penetrate the heart. So we must ask ourselves, is my heart open to receiving his mercy?
In Matthew 13:1-9 we hear the parable of the sower. The sower sowed seeds on the path, which were eaten up by the birds, then on the rocky ground, which sprung up immediately and were scorched by the sun, then amongst the thorns, which grew and were eventually choked up by the thorns, and finally on good soil, which brought forth an abundance of grain. Jesus is showing us through this parable the different receivers that we are and how important it is to cultivate an open and ready heart in order to receive his mercy and love, which will in turn bear fruit. This parable reminds us that our cooperation with God is paramount. God is constantly sowing seeds amongst all of humanity, but are we open and ready to receive his gifts?
This is another way in which the world confuses tolerance with mercy. St. Pope John Paul the Great in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio talks about the ‘gradualness of the law,’ and warns us of its effects in creating “different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.” The truth does not apply differently to different people. Tolerating the sins of some because of their situation or their temptations is not mercy. Instead it actually attacks their very dignity to the core – for we are all created in the image and likeness of God and we are all made for truth.
God reveals himself to us through the truth. To say that one person’s temptation is too extreme, or another’s hardship is too much, so we should lower the standard for them is wrong and a very dangerous slippery slope. Read the lives of the saints. These holy men and women, despite incredible persecution and suffering, lived the truth. They trusted in the truth and made it a priority to keep their hearts open to receiving God’s mercy and love. We too must not give up on the truth! The truth will set us free from the bondage of sin.
Imagine God’s mercy being like the rain falling upon all of humanity at the same time and in the same measure. But who of us can say our hearts are ready and open to receiving the rain and letting it penetrate deep into us, to nourish the seeds of truth. The open receivers, the ones who have cultivated good soil in their hearts, are those humble souls who have recognized their dependence on God and are able to see where they have turned away from him through sin. These souls are the ones who stand in the rain and receive his mercy, they no longer desire to run away to find shelter from the rain. And so we see here that our participation as receivers is necessary.
We are not simply bystanders where God’s mercy falls upon us and without our desire or knowledge we are cleansed; eliminating the need for us to turn away from our sinfulness and turn back to God. Instead, God has given us free will in order for us to CHOOSE to turn to him, which by doing so we are turning away from sin. We CHOOSE to ready our hearts in order to receive his mercy and allow the seeds of truth to take root, bearing the fruit of understanding.
In all of this, we can be assured that God does not change and so God’s law, the truth, does not change. The truth is not an ideal that is out of our reach and so we settle for less. The truth is the fullness. God invites each and every one of us to live in the fullness of the truth. Even though we are unable to remain in the truth on our own accord, when we humbly ask God to help us live in union with his divine will, we are given what we need to be able to live in the truth. It is God who reaches down to us in our weakness to lift us up, but it is only when we open our arms to him and allow him to lift us up that we are raised off the ground. May we always strive to live in the truth, trusting in his abundant mercy and love.
“And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” – Colossians 1:9-10