Guillermo del Toro, the director of Pan’s Labyrinth, has noted that, “The sign of true friendship is when you forgive success.” (“Three Amigos” by John Kavanagh, America, July 2-9, 2007). In other words, when one is able to truly rejoice in the happiness and good fortune of a friend without any hint of jealousy or resentment – this is the witness of true friendship. At the heart of this awareness of what constitutes true friendship is love that seeks the good of the other. Therefore, true friendship means letting go of self in favor of the other and here also, interestingly enough – as if planned, is found the path to true joy. God himself reveals it. This is the very type of love that God has for us and it also reveals the abundant joy that God has in us.
It is telling that in both images from this coming Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 15:1-10), – the shepherd and the found sheep, the woman and the found coin – the first words spoken by both the shepherd and the woman after finding what was lost are, “Rejoice with me…” Have joy with me as I now already have joy.
Both the shepherd and the woman let go of self in order to seek out that which was lost. The shepherd leaves behind the ninety-nine sheep (his livelihood) and the woman lets go of the seemliness and propriety of her status in order to turn the house upside down searching for a coin. Their focus is not on themselves but on what is lost and what needs to be found. In this letting go is ultimately found (not just the sheep or the coin) but joy itself. The realization of joy breaks through just as the anxiety of searching is left behind. “Rejoice with me…”
Letting go of self is at the heart of joy. It is also at the heart of mercy. God also reveals this. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” writes Paul in the first chapter of 1st Timothy and then a little later he continues, “To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God, honor and glory forever and ever.” Christ lets go of all his glory and kingship in order to come into the world, to be born, to suffer and die – all in order to bring salvation to that which was lost. “Be merciful,” teaches Christ, “just as your Father is merciful.” Mercy requires a letting go of self and a willingness to focus on the other. Mercy, therefore, is a path to joy.
This is the depth of God’s approach toward us – not just mercy but a letting go of self in mercy, not just joy in self but really a joy for the other. In God, mercy and joy meet. In us, who are made in God’s image and renewed in Christ, mercy and joy can meet – in our letting go of self.
“Rejoice with me, I have found that which was lost.”