June 1996

The Word of Life, taken from Scripture, is offered each month as a guide and inspiration for daily living.

"Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice" (Mk 1:15)

Do you remember when Jesus said these words? While he was having dinner one day, some publicans and persons of ill-repute (generally scorned as sinners by the public) came and sat at the table with him. As soon as the Pharisees noticed this, they asked his disciples: "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" Upon hearing this, Jesus replied:

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice"

Jesus is quoting a phrase from the prophet Hosea, which shows that he likes the idea it contains. In fact, it is the norm that he himself follows. It expresses the primacy of love over any other commandment, over any other rule or precept.

This is Christianity: Jesus came to say that what God wants from you, in your relationship with other men and women, is first of all love, and that this will of God has already been announced in the Scriptures, as the words of the prophet Hosea show.

Love is the program of life for all Christians, the fundamental law of their actions, the criterion of their behavior.

Love must always take precedence over other laws. Indeed, love for others must be the solid basis on which a Christian legitimately puts into practice all other precepts.

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice"

Jesus wants love, and mercy is one of its expressions.

He wants Christians to live in this way, above all because God is like this.

Jesus is telling us that God is first and foremost a merciful God, a Father who loves all, who makes the sun rise and the rain fall on the good and the bad.

Because Jesus loves everyone, he is not afraid to be with sinners, an by doing so, he reveals to us who God is.

If God, then, is like this, if Jesus is like this, you too must nurture the same sentiments.

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice"

If you don't love your neighbor, your worship will not be pleasing to Jesus. He does not acept your prayers, your attendance at Mass, your offerings if they do not flow out from a heart which is at peace with everyone, rich with love towards all.

Do you remember the very incisive words of his 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 to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Mt. 5:23-24).

These words tell you that the worship most pleasing to God is love of neighbor, which must be placed as the basis even of your worshipping God.

If you were to offer a gift to your father while you are angry with your brother (or your brother is angry with you), what would your father tell you? "Make peace with your brother first and then you can come to offer me whatever you like."

But there is something more. Love is not only the basis of Christian living. It is also the most direct way to remain in communion with God. It has been affirmed by the saints, who have witnessed to the Gospel before us, and it has been experienced by Christians who live their faith: if they help their neighbors, above all the needy, their devotion grows, their union with God is strengthened, they feel that a bond exists between them and the Lord, and this is what gives most joy to their lives.

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice"

How can you live this new Word of Life? Do not discriminate against people, nor encourage it among those people you are in contact with. Do not marginalize anyone, but offer to everyone as much as you can give, in imitation of God the Father. Patch up small or big disagreements which displease heaven and embitter your life. Do not let the sun set - as Scripture says (cf. Eph. 4:26) - on your anger with anyone.

If you act in this way, all that you do will be pleasing to God and will remain in eternity. Whether you are working or resting, playing or studying, whether you are with your children or taking a walk with your wife or husband, whether you are praying or giving of yourself to others, or fulfilling those religious practices which suit part of your Christian vocation, everything, everything, everything will serve as building material for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Paradise is a house that we build here and dwell in there. And we build it by loving.

Chiara Lubich