Love Everyone, Especially Those In Most Need Of Mercy And Compassion

Love Everyone, Especially Those In Most Need Of Mercy And Compassion April 21, 2023

St. Poimen Greek Orthodox Broterhood: St Poemen / Wikimedia Commons

God is no respecter of persons. God loves everyone and works, in mysterious ways, for the benefit and salvation of all. God will not allow sin to hinder that love. God seeks, and finds, new ways to share that love, so that no matter how many barriers are put in place, God has a way to reach out and share that love with everyone. How can we not see this is one of the lessons we are to learn from the incarnation? God, in the incarnation, came to be with us, helping us out of the mess we made for ourselves. Jesus, the God-man, is the Good Shepherd looking for the lost sheep. He wants to embrace us, to share with us God’s bountiful love. Indeed, Jesus does so in such a way that it can be said that God embraces the sinner, the fallen, far more than those who have not fallen, because God offers more mercy and grace to them than those who do not need it.

This is emphasized many times in Jesus’ parables. Perhaps none is a more fitting a representation of this than the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In it, God shows how much care and love God has for those who, having gone away to a life of sin, come back and embrace the love they once had forsaken. We are exhorted by that parable not to become angry or feel as if we are being ignored when we see God reaching out to those who are further away from God than we are. We should celebrate and cherish everyone who comes back to God. It is not only important that we understand this message, it is imperative that we live it out. We must embrace the meaning of it in all its dimensions, both in our relation to God, but also in our relation with others. We should imitate God, imitate the love God has for all, especially for those who need it most; while we should honor those who are strong in faith and in a state of perfection, we should especially be concerned about those who are not, that is, those who need our love. If we do not give them our love, if no one gives them the love they need, they are likely to find themselves straying further and further away, into the shadows and darkness, causing themselves and everyone else much more pain and sorrow.

The desert monks, in the various collections we have of their sayings, reveal the truth of this in a variety of ways, among which we see the way the elders helped those monks had fallen astray.  Indeed, one elder said that we show our honor and love for God when we help those who  have gone astray:

A brother asked an elder, “How can a man receive the grace of loving God?” In answer he said, “If someone sees his brother slipping up and calls on God for help on his behalf, then he acquires understanding of how one should love God.” [1]

We should do what we can for others.  We must accept, however, sometimes that is not much, and perhaps, in some situations, all we can offer is thoughts and prayers. But if we can do more, we should not limit ourselves to mere prayer. What is important is that we open ourselves to those in need, to those who have wandered astray, and truly love them. We should do so, not because we hope to get something from them, but because we love them for who they are. This is how God loves them. God is not a respecter of persons. God loves everyone, and in that love, God cares for and works for everyone. We should be ready to listen to others, to hear from them their hopes and dreams, their pains and sorrows, for this way, we will get to know them as real people and not as mere objects which we try to control. This is exactly how God works with us, and so if God works in this way, so should we. The more we open ourselves to them like this, the more we will be able to embrace them with love. The more we embrace others with love, the more we will be like God, for God is love.

It is extremely important that when we do something on behalf of another, we do it out of love. There should be no underhanded manipulation going on. We should not go out judging them, acting as by doing so, we are showing them love. For all we do is show our contempt for them when we do so. Thus, we should welcome them, embrace them, love them, building them up; and then like God, we should embrace them more all the more when the show they need that love more:

A brother asked an elder, “When I see a brother whom I have heard has slipped up, I don’t have the confidence to bring him into my cell; but if I see an excellent brother, I welcome him in.” The elder said to him, “If you do a small favor to the excellent brother, do twice as much for the other because he is the one who is sick.”[2]

Those who would shun people they deem to be sinners shows that despite what they claim, they do not act for the benefit of others. While there can be times when so-called tough love is necessary, most of the time, it is not love, but manipulation which is going on under the name of tough love. Tough love will always show love, but those who judge and condemn show hatred and a desire to control or abuse those they judge. That is, those who claim they are embracing tough love show they are not doing so when all they give out is abuse.  Similarly, if  we shun people because of the way others will think of us for being with them, it is clear, we are thinking of ourselves, not those we shun. We should not be ashamed of “bad associations.” We should realize that Jesus was condemned, in part, because of the way he associated with those whom religious authorities condemned. It is those who would like to stand apart from others with false piety who truly undermine holiness and pose a spiritual threat.

Therefore, we should consider doing twice as much for those in need of our love and mercy than those without such need. Certainly, we are not to abandon those who truly are holy and righteous. We can and should honor them as well. But we must do so in such a way as to remember the true path of holiness seeks to have such holiness shared. The more it is shared, the more everyone will become holy together. Love does that. On the other hand, when someone cuts others off from that love, it is clear both suffer a great loss.  Those who would cut out sinners from their lives, those who would judge and condemn them, pushing them away, not only hurt those in need, but themselves, for they become what they judge others, that is sinners, and because they do not yet see the need for mercy and love, they are likely to wander far astray before, they, too, hopefully will find their way back and truly embrace the holiness which is found in love.

[1] John Wortley, trans., The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2012), 307 [N 636].

[2] John Wortley, trans., The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 307 [Poemen 70a].


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