The Presence of Mercy

In our first reading for today’s Mass, we encounter Ezra. You might ask, “…and who is Ezra?” The genealogy of Ezra (Ezra 7:1–5) traces his priesthood back to Aaron, brother of Moses. He is also called a scribe, well-versed in the law of Moses (7:6), indicating Ezra’s dedication to the study of the Torah, which he sought to make the basic rule of life in the restored, post-Babylonian-Exile community. It was in religious and cultic reform rather than in political affairs that Ezra made his mark as a postexilic leader. Jewish tradition holds him in great esteem. The Talmud regards him as a second Moses, claiming that the Torah would have been given to Israel through Ezra had not Moses preceded him.

Ezra was the one who led a group of Judean exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem after Cyrus of Persia gave them leave to return.  Ezra, knowing that the people’s “wicked deeds are heaped up above our heads and our guilt reaches up to heaven. From the time of our fathers even to this day great has been our guilt, and for our wicked deeds we have been delivered up, we and our kings and our priests, to the will of the kings of foreign lands, to the sword, to captivity, to pillage, and to disgrace, as is the case today” (Ezra 9:6-7) emphasized observance of the Torah. He exhorted the Israelite people to be sure to follow the Torah Law so as not to intermarry with people of particular different religions, a set of commandments described in the Pentateuch –  as well as other commands.

And yet in the midst of his realization of the many ways the people have sinned and failed to live into the Covenant, Ezra is deeply aware of God’s mercy: “…our God has brightened our eyes and given us relief …. has not abandoned us; rather, he has turned the good will of the kings of Persia toward us. Thus he has given us new life..” (Ezra 9:8-9)

And perhaps that is a lesson for today – to realize that in our encounters with all things, even sin and temptation, God’s mercy and grace and there – always there. Ezra recognized that. Do we?


If you are interested in learning more about this book of the Bible, I would recommend The Bible Project’s 8-minute video. Enjoy.

A new life

The scene in today’ gospel (a woman caught in adultery) is a mixture of zealous righteousness that seeks to enact the law without pardon or quarter, the leadership who want to trap Jesus between mercy and the Law, and a woman caught in sin, fearing for her life.  The Law commands a stoning to death as punishment for her transgressions. More precisely the law speaks of the death of both the man and the woman involved (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22-24). The law makes it clear that stoning could only take place after a careful trial, which included the chance for the condemned to confess his or her wrong (m. Sanhedrin 6:1-4). Continue reading

Showing Mercy

Today’s gospel is short, sweet with many good points. Let me muse upon just one: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” One way to consider this admonition is to ponder what are the consequence of withholding mercy.

In the early 19th century, Mary Shelley wrote the novel, Frankenstein.  While we associate the name with the creature, the name is the moniker of the novel’s scientist. This character is often thought about as the archetypical product of the Enlightenment and Industrial Age.

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Mercy and Justice

One of the great tensions in thinking about God, reading the Bible, and our own experience of life is how mercy and justice can operate together. That tension is succinctly expressed in two short verses of Scripture:

The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation! (Ex 34:6-7)

Our friends at the Bible Project shed light on the context of the verses and give us food for thought about the context for our lives. Please support their great work.

Gift of Mercy

Recently wrote about forgiveness. I started out the column as a reflection on the readings for Advent sometime do not seem to fit the mood of Christmas coming. But then Advent is a time of waiting and reflecting; and to think about gift giving. Forgiveness is one of the great gifts you can give. The end of the post I mused: “What ‘Christmas gift’ comes along with this life of forgiveness? Lower blood pressure, restful night, sweet dreams, peace, no longer being a victim, uninterrupted prayer, a new experience of God’s love… and so much more. Your gift is waiting right there under the tree, the cross of Christ. Go ahead, open your gift. `Tis always the season.’” Continue reading

Being reluctant

In today’s readings for Mass, the refrain of the Psalm is “The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and of great kindness.” And that is a great thing to know and recall when we have sinned in ways large and small. And we should turn to God seeking forgiveness and the divine grace to quench our souls.

But how often our dryness has led us to the occasion of sin – and that same dryness keeps us from seeking forgiveness from God – and especially from others. The reading from Isaiah describes it all pretty well: “…the needy seek water…their tongues are parched with thirst. This is when we need to turn to God: I, the LORD, will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the broad valleys” (Isaiah 41:17-18)

That’s what God will do for us – and we should drink deeply of those waters.

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Judging or Mercy

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke 6:36-38. Typically the exegetical break is to include Luke 6:27-36 together with Luke 6:37 beginning a new thought. Not that they are not connected, but nonetheless a new train of thought.

27 “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. Continue reading

Gift of Mercy

In last week’s column I wrote about forgiveness. I started out the column as a reflection on the readings from Scripture for the first week of Advent, noting how the readings did not seem to fit the mood of Christmas coming. The column explained that they weren’t meant to be – it’s Advent, a time of waiting and reflecting despite what the commercial world of commerce would have you believe. But maybe the draw of Christmas is too powerful. The column sort of morphed itself into the idea of forgiveness as the gift you give. The end of the column said: “What ‘Christmas gift’ comes along with this life of forgiveness? Lower blood pressure, restful night, sweet dreams, peace, no longer being a victim, uninterrupted prayer, a new experience of God’s love… and so much more. Your gift is waiting right there under the tree, the cross of Christ. Go ahead, open your gift. `Tis always the season.’” Continue reading

Boundaries, Faith and Gratitude

This coming Sunday marks our journey in Ordinary Time, the 28th Sunday in Year C. You can read a complete commentary on the Sunday Gospel here.

11 As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was entering a village, ten lepers met (him). They stood at a distance from him 13 and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” 14 And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; 16 and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? 18 Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” 19 Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” (Luke 18:1-8)

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Infinite Mercy

In Jesus’ time, large agricultural operations such as the one described in our gospel parable were rarely run by the owner or the family, such things were left to the steward to oversee. The steward had the full faith and backing of the owner to operate the business. The steward would sell the oil and wheat production for cash, trade, or in exchange for promissory notes. The bartering that preceded the execution of the promissory note was classic commodity bargaining:  I will give you so many measure of oil now, and at this future date you will repay with a higher measure of oil.  There were two thing buried in the difference between the higher amount and the original amount: profit for the owner and commission for the steward. That was the way things worked. Continue reading