I can almost see John standing with outreached hands saying, “Don’t you get it? What else can I say to you to make you understand?” That is John’s message in today’s First Reading. He tells us water, blood, the spirit and human understanding should make the point. But beyond that, don’t you hear the Father? If you believe, you will have eternal life, and if you believe, you will know that Jesus has brought us eternal life. In this reading, John is speaking to a people who for the most part didn’t seem to have a very strong belief in eternal life. But he is also speaking to us. This may be a good time to think a bit about how strongly we actually do believe in eternal life. The average life expectancy for humanity is 66.7 years. If you compare that to eternity, it’s not much at all and yet our focus is definitely on this life. We put so much of ourselves into celebrations—birthdays, Christmas, Halloween—but it seems like our preparation for eternal life is an afterthought. If our Faith was stronger, wouldn’t we be spending most of our time preparing for eternal life and less time preparing for Halloween? Wouldn’t we be overjoyed when someone enters the Kingdom? And wouldn’t we live lives that show that we know that 66, 70, 80 or even a hundred years of this life are but nothing compared to eternal life?
As we begin this year of 2016, let’s ask ourselves, what will I do this year to get ready for eternal life? But let’s also give ourselves a break; after all, we’re only human. Hopefully this year of mercy will encourage us to be merciful to our neighbors but also to be merciful to ourselves and to remember that we can bathe in God’s mercy.
In the Gospel, Jesus performs a great act of mercy when he cures the leper. And he goes one step further, when he tells the leper to show himself to the priest and present the offering so they will know he is clean. Jesus knew that if the leper tried to resume a normal life without having this seal of approval, he would continue to be shunned by family and friends. Jesus didn’t just cure the leper, he cared about the leper.
Do we do acts of mercy, truly caring about the recipient, and do we remember to love ourselves as we love others? May 2016 be a year of strengthening our beliefs, living our Faith, and practicing mercy as we follow the path Jesus laid for us.
Mary Lou Butler is a long-time friend and partner in ministry to the Passionists in California.