Undeserved Gratuitous Love

News September 28, 2021

By Fr. Luis Hernandez

One of my personal favorite teachings of Jesus is heard in this Sunday’s Gospel: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, will surely not lose his reward”. Similarly, in the parable of the final judgement, Jesus declares: “Come, you who are blessed [and] inherit the kingdom, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink”. These passages show God’s unbelievable attention to every little detail, to the smallest courtesy, to the most humble services we are also called to live out.

The well-known commandment of loving our neighbor finds here one of its most specific and beautiful expressions. It doesn’t matter who we are, our mood, the moment we are living, as long as we remember that Christ, God who became flesh, is present in the person we have in front of us. And, of course, as long as we say “yes” to their expressed or implicit cry for help.

Some of you may have heard about Bryan Stevenson, a gifted attorney that founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an office dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned and prisoners on death row. In his book Just Mercy, he tells some stories from his long years of legal practice. Toward the end, he gives some magnificent reflections, starting from the question of the death penalty: “Why do we want to kill all the broken people? What is wrong with us?”

In a sort of confession, he admits: “My life was just as full of brokenness, because you can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it. In their broken state, my represented individuals were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice”.

His views on the system of justice may be fully shared or not, but his personal approach to the problems he describes is in any case very humane and Christian. He continues: “We are all broken by something. Still, our shared brokenness connects us. Being broken is what makes us human”. We are all in need of healing, in need of reconciliation, in need of a cup of water.

As a consequence of this, he speaks about mercy. “Embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy”. We will not give nor accept little signs of mercy unless we acknowledge that, while they are not mandatory or strictly necessary, they are undeserved moments of gratuitous love that fulfill us as human beings.

By the way, as a sign of mercy, for those who don’t have the time or the patience to engage in this reading, there is a homonymous movie that depicts just one of the many stories in the book, with the same message and depth.

We are called to imitate God’s mercy, and reproduce in our daily lives simple gestures of love. On the one hand, accepting what others have to share with us. On the other, taking initiative to even anticipate what others may need. Nobody can say it’s too difficult when we are just talking about a cup of water.