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June 2002

Go and learn what this text means, "I require mercy, not sacrifice." (Matt 9:13)

Jesus' way of acting was so new compared with the attitudes of his times that he often shocked respectable people. An example is when he asked Matthew to follow him and went to have lunch with him. Matthew was a tax collector and because of his job he was not well thought of. Indeed he was considered to be a public sinner, an enemy working for the Roman Empire.

The Pharisees asked themselves, why is Jesus eating with a sinner? Isn't it better to avoid certain people? That question gave Jesus the chance to explain that the people he really wants to meet are sinners, just as a doctor wants to see the sick. He concluded by saying to the Pharisees that they should go and study the meaning of God's word in the Old Testament Book of Hosea: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (cf. Hosea 6: 5)

Why does God want us to be merciful? Because he wants us to be like him. We must resemble him like children resemble their father and mother. Throughout the Gospel Jesus speaks about the love of the Father for the good and the bad, for the just and for sinners, for each person. He does not discriminate nor exclude anyone. if he has any preference, it is for those who seem least deserving of love, as in the parable of the prodigal son.

"Be merciful," Jesus explains, "just as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36): this is perfection. (cf. Matt. 5:48)

Go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy...

Today too Jesus invites each one of us to 'Go and learn...' But where should we go? Who can teach us what it means to be merciful? Only one person: Jesus himself, who went in search of the lost sheep, who forgave those who had betrayed and crucified him, who gave his life for our salvation. If we want to learn to be merciful like the Father, to be perfect as he is, we must look to Jesus, the full revelation of the love of the Father. He said: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father."

Go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy...

Why mercy, and not sacrifice? Because love is the absolute value that gives meaning to everything else, even to worship, even to sacrifice. In fact the sacrifice most pleasing to God is concrete love towards our neighbour, that finds its highest expression in mercy.

It is mercy that helps us to see with new eyes the people we live with every day in our families, at school, at work, no longer remembering their faults and mistakes. Mercy helps us not to judge but to forgive wrongs done, indeed to forget them.

Our sacrifice will not necessarily mean doing long vigils and fasts, or sleeping on the ground, but rather always welcoming in our hearts whoever we meet, whether they are good or bad.

This was the attitude of a man who worked in the reception and accounts department of a hospital. His village had not long been completely burned out by his 'enemies'. One morning he saw someone bringing a sick relative. From his accent he immediately realised that this was one of his 'enemies', who was afraid, not wanting to reveal his identity in case he was sent away. The receptionist did not ask for any documents and helped him, even though he had to overcome the hatred he had been harbouring for a long time. During the following days he was able to help him on several occasions. On his last day in hospital his ,enemy went to pay his bills and said to the receptionist: "I must admit something you don't know." And the receptionist replied: "I have known who you are from day one." "So why did you help me if I am your enemy?"

As happened to this man, so too for us mercy can be born from love that knows how to sacrifice itself for any other person, following the example of Jesus, who reached the point of giving his life for all.

Chiara Lubich


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