There is an insurance commercial currently running which shows a group of men and women attending a “Dad” support group. The group is wrestling with the fact that they’re all turning into their parents, saying things like “I text in complete sentences”, “This hat was free, what am I suppose to do, not wear it?” “Why is the door open, are we trying to air condition the whole neighborhood?” One man holds up his flip phone and says, “Why would I replace this? It’s not broken.”
The truth is, many of us have watched with fascination and surprise as we slowly grow to be like our parents. We enter the cocoon of adulthood only to emerge as butterflies suspiciously similar to the moms, dads, and guardians before us.
Young children left on their own will not survive, and because of this nobody grows up entirely alone. All of us have had our lives shaped by the people who were there to nurture us and walk us into adulthood. And those people leave a lasting imprint on us, for better or worse, whether we know it or not. We’re not doomed to become like those who have gone before—especially if we suffer abuse and neglect—but if we don’t actively resist it, we naturally and subconsciously grow in that direction.
This is true of our concrete human relations, but it also seems to be true in a spiritual sense. We tend to grow into our image of God. If we see God as cruel and judgmental, we tend to become cruel and judgmental. If we see God as compassionate and forgiving, we tend to become compassionate and forgiving.
This is one of the lessons we can learn from Jesus in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount).
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36 NRSV)
For Jesus, this idea that we should be kind to people regardless of whether they’re kind to us rests on his image of God. We should be that way because God is that way. And being kind to all, even the wicked, will make us “children of the Most High” because God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” The way Jesus saw God was reflected in his life and his teachings. And when we share Christ’s vision of God, it will be reflected in our lives and teachings as well.
This creates something of a ripple effect. Embracing God as merciful tends to make us merciful, which in turn tends to make our children merciful. Children grow to be like us as we grow to be like God.
We do have a merciful God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, it’s just that we often make the mistake of portraying God in different ways, and this mistake can have unfortunate and long term consequences.
I wish all our women a happy Mother’s Day, and all our men a happy Father’s Day. We are blessed by many loving parents who have grounded their lives in a loving Divine Parent. May we all build on the same foundation.
Yours in Christ;