Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
God’s mercy is infinite and unconditional. But isn't there some kind of condition built into the phrases of today’s reading? “Judge not and you will not be judged.” “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” “The measure you give is the measure you will get.” Don’t these phrases suggest that if you do judge you will be judged; if you refuse to forgive you will be refused forgiveness; and that God is only as merciful as you are? How are we to understand this?
St Augustine was at his best when he was struggling with the most difficult passages. Hear what he has to say about this. “What do you want from the Lord? Mercy. Give it, and it shall be given to you. What do you want from the Lord? Forgiveness. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Then later he added: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given you: These are the two wings of prayer, on which your spirit soars to God.” Our spirit is meant to soar, not just to be lifted up like a stone. God's mercy, forgiveness, and generosity are not just exercised on us; they are to exercise in us. By being merciful, forgiving and generous, as best we can, we are receiving God’s gift rather than just being credited with it.
Think of it this way. If you cannot give you cannot receive either. The measure you give is the measure you are capable of receiving. A saint would give you his or her life, but a thief only wants to take from you. “With every creature, according to the nobility of its nature, the more it indwells in itself, the more it gives itself out,” wrote Meister Eckhart. If I refuse to give (or forgive), this shows that I have not entered into the human and divine mystery of what we are. God does not limit mercy, forgiveness, and generosity; we do.
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