“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47) Chuck Roberts was not an exceptional person – at least not in the way the world would account for such things. He graduated high school, held a number of jobs, saved a little, married, and settled down to have a family. He was laid to rest at age 32 on a gray raining morning. His wife Marie and their two small children stood at the graveside – no money, no insurance, no near-by family. Chuck was the only wage earner. They had never been rich, but now they were on the edge of poor ready to tumble in head first.
On that gray, cold and drizzling morning of October 10th, Marie’s life was beginning to rapidly crumble. A widow so young. Two small children only now beginning to realize that dad was not coming home. It all was a picture of time frozen, the rain marking a slow staccato on the umbrellas, as though signaling the beginning of the end.
Perhaps this scene is not foreign to many of you. Many of us here have seen the face of tragedy, and all of us instinctively want to help – to set things right, to ease the affliction, or to simply let them know that we care. And our instincts are correct, and are good. And yet we struggle to know how to help. We want to heal them, make them whole, be a reason for their hope. But we know we are often not up to the task.
To be able to live in a way that, for people like Marie and her kids, we are able to offer. . .. to offer such . . .such . . .such . . .well, what word should we use? “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47). Is “pity” the word we want? Well, let me ask you this . . .do you want pity? Over the last week I have asked people about the word “pity,” how we understand and use it. Despite what the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “pity” does not have a positive connotation in everyday usage. Pity is that thing that we shower upon the unfortunate, a distant regret for their plight, a thankful prayer that it is not us.
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47) The underlying word is eléos – I don’t know why they translate it as “pity” – the meaning is “to show mercy,” indicating a response roused by an underserved affliction in others. It denotes a kindness resulting from a relationship. Kyrie Eleison. Lord have mercy. Eléos is the mercy that the Good Samaritan shows to the wounded, robbed person he had never met. Eléos is the word used to describe the Hebrew hesed – the mercy of God, divine mercy. In its original use, mercy/hesed/eléos was associated with requests of essential, vital help which the person is unable to attain by themselves. The one to whom the request is addressed is able to assist and must make the free moral choice to commit – not the action – but to the person in need – the willingness to enter into a relationship.
Such is divine mercy, divine compassion – and in this is how we are we called to be in the world.
This compassionate mercy is so much more than pity. Allowing some poetic license …there is no pity in God …there is only merciful compassion. A mercy which forgives – not because we are good, but because God is good. A mercy which loves – because God is good. A mercy which is not limited, not a scarce resource, but a mercy which is infinite – a fountain fullness, overflowing of grace into our world, into our lives.
“Jesus, son of David, have [mercy] on me.” (Mark 10:47) – would be the translation and the lesson. The homeless and poor of Prince William County do not need our pity. They need the divine, merciful compassion Jesus bestows on Bartimeus. In this time and place, we are the conduits of Divine Mercy into this world.
The long teaching of Scripture, lived out by Jesus, is that the true child of God is to extend the mercy of God to all – family, the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien among us. As the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told …what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8].
What Marie Roberts needed that day at her husband’s graveside was mercy. Five days earlier her husband, Charles Carl Roberts IV had taken the Nickel Mines Amish school hostage. Five young girls died and more were wounded. Charles took his own life. The Amish community, even in the midst of their anguish and loss, reached out – in mercy – to Marie and her children. Within hours of the tragedy Amish neighbors were at Marie’s home, extending mercy through their words of forgiveness and compassionate actions. More than 30 Amish community members attended Charles’ funeral. The Amish set up a charitable fund for the Roberts family. Later Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to the Amish Community; “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately needed. Gifts you have given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your mercy has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing the world.”
Marie’s need was vital. The Amish response was freely given and so they entered more deeply into a relationship with her. That day they did justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with God.
Each day we are called to that same task. In our lives and all around us we can hear the echo, “Jesus, son of David, have [mercy] on me.” May the grace of God’s mercy be upon us and may we give freely what we have received.