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June 1981

I desire mercy and not sacrifice. (Mt. 9, 13)

Jesus spoke these words when some publicans and sinners came and sat at his table and ate with him. The Pharisees saw them and they said to his disciples, 'Why does your master eat with publicans and sinners?' On hearing these words Jesus replied:

Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

Jesus was quoting from the prophet Hosea, showing that he agreed with the attitude expressed by the prophet's words, because they described the rule by which he himself lived. The quotation declares the pre-eminence of love over all other commandments, rules or precepts.

This is what is particularly new about Christianity. Jesus says that in your dealings with other people, God wants love from you before everything else, and the words of Hosea show that this will of God had already been announced in the Scriptures. So for every Christian love is the central programme of life. It is the foundation of all actions, and the standard by which people live.

Love should always to take precedence over other laws. For a Christian, love for others should be the only sure foundation on which all other rules are legitimately based.

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

Jesus wants love. Mercy is one expression of love, and he wants Christians to live like this because this is what God is like. For Jesus, God is first and foremost the Merciful One, the Father who loves all and who ‘causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike’. Because he loves all, Jesus is not afraid of keeping company with sinners. By so doing he shows what God is like.

So if God is like that, if Jesus is like that, you too ought to cultivate exactly the same attitude.

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

…and not sacrifice. If you do not love your brother, your worship will not be acceptable to Jesus. Your prayers will not interest him, or your churchgoing, or the offerings you make, unless it all comes from your heart which is at peace with everyone, and is rich with love towards all. Do you remember those telling words of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount? So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift."

In other words, the worship that is most pleasing to God is love of your neighbour. This should be the basis of your worship of God. If you wanted to give your father a present while you were angry with your brother (or he with you), what would your father say to you? ‘Make peace and then by all means come to offer me whatever you wish.’

But there is more to be said. Love is not only the basis of the Christian way of life. It is also the most direct way of entering into communion with God. The saints tell us this, and Christians who truly live their faith experience this. If they help their fellow people, especially those in need, devotion grows in them, their union with God is strengthened and they become aware that there is a bond between them and the Lord. This gives them more joy in their life than anything else.

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.

How then will you live this new Word of Life? Don’t discriminate between the people you meet. Don’t exclude anyone. Instead, imitate God the Father by offering what you are able to give to everyone. Heaven deplores both small and serious disagreements which cause bitterness in your life, so settle them and, as Scripture says, do not let the sun go down on your anger towards anyone.

If you behave like this, everything you do will please God who will preserve your actions for eternity. Whether you work or rest, whether you play or study, whether you are with your children or going for a walk, whether you are praying, sacrificing yourself or performing the religious practices suited to your Christian vocation, all of this, everything will be the raw material for building the kingdom of Heaven.

Paradise is a house that we build here in this life and live in there in the next life. We build it with love.

Chiara Lubich

 

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