The Prepared Place

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Right before I spent a summer in Russia in 2009, I read a scripture from Hebrews 11:13-16, that speaks of the promises of God, being a wanderer on the earth and seeking a homeland better than a country, a desire which is satisfied in the city of God. Since that summer, my definition of home has become fluid, if not murky and inconclusive. I can relate to the longing described in those few verses in Hebrews. Like those motivated by faith, I know that this “home” Scripture speaks of is not a place I can return to, otherwise I’d go back to it, and while I am not quite sure what it is; I know it is something better than a place I go to sleep at night.

Jesus says in John 14:2-3, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Jesus goes on to tell his disciples, that the only way to get there is through Him. Jesus himself takes his people home. This home, however, is not a big spacious mansion for you to live in alone or with the family members you liked the most here on earth.

While Revelation 21 does give us some indication of the craftsmanship of the city of God, the purpose of this home is not isolated or exclusive to those we have the most in common with. In fact, the city of God invites us to quite the opposite. To Jesus, home is the gathering of all His people together including those who we may scarcely relate to outside of a mutual love for Jesus. He invites the IRS and the prostitutes (Matthew 21:31). If you relate all too well to those individuals, he invites the poor and immobile (Luke 14:21), he even invites the wealthy next generation leader (Matthew 19:20-24). Jesus prepares the place, extends the invitation, and is the avenue to Heaven through faith in his death and resurrection, demonstrated by our fully surrendered life.

It’s odd that Jesus says He prepares this place so that “where He is, we would be also.” If that is the case: why leave, Jesus? He leaves because what we have here and now is not the full extent of His or our home. He leaves us here with His Holy Spirit to prepare us for our home by making us holy while inviting others to a reconciled relationship with God. He wants us to become a hospitable people, learning to love the lowly and our enemies with the awareness that they were created to share in our home. If home is where the heart is, and where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also, then the human heart is most at home when our treasure is in Christ.

-James Passaro

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Years of Mercy

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I saw a sign driving recently that read, “Year of Mercy.” It stopped me because of the association I have with the word mercy. I love the implications of the mercy as a loyal love. Pope Francis declared last Easter that 2016 would be a year of mercy. Quoting theologian Cardinal Kasper, he said that mercy itself “is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.”

Mercy implies a love that continues to be given even when the receiver of that love does not deserve it. For mercy to even exist, it assumes that the one receiving love has either not been loyal or has little to give in return. We would not need mercy if it were not for our disloyalty and insufficiency. While grace is the reason we thrive, mercy is why God allows us to even live.

Mercy keeps our heart beating and lungs breathing when both should have stopped the first time we disobeyed God. Yet the fascinating thing about mercy is after experiencing the mercy of God toward us, He expects us to show mercy to others. Scripture tells us that the expression of mercy is the demonstration of the Christian’s victory in Christ over the judgment we deserve. James 2:13 reads, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” This verse provides us with a choice and it should be a relatively easy one. When one chooses not to show mercy, judgment is not withheld. Yet mercy triumphs over judgment. It is confident in its superiority over judgment so much so that it always assumes mercy is the right choice.

However, if we are being honest with ourselves there are instances that even in the light of the mercy we have received it is hard to extend mercy to those who have hurt us or disappointed us. This, I believe, is why God gave us the OT book of Hosea. God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute and to have children, the first of which they named Lo-ruhama which means “she has not received mercy” (Hos 1:6). God gives the child that name to demonstrate how the unfaithfulness of Israel is warrant for God to withhold mercy. Yet, God who is rich in love ultimately desires to show mercy to His people and relent in His judgment. His priority is always mercy over judgment. But God does not give what His people refuse to receive and likewise give. Following this model, may 2016 and the years to come be times in which we receive and give mercy with open arms.

-James Passaro