A Gift of Advent: Mercy

Last Saturday I wrote about forgiveness. I started out the post 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 post 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

Divine Mercy and Compassion

The gospel today is Luke’s account of the blind man on the roadside who cries out: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”  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 undeserved affliction in others. It denotes a kindness resulting from a relationship. 

In our penitential rite we pray “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 – it is fundamentally about relationships.

A relationship of mercy that 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.

The suffering, troubled and poor of Prince William County, our state, our nation and our world 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 that Divine Mercy and Compassion into this world.


Image Credit: BibleProject.com, Public Domain

A little more…

Please take a moment to watch this wonderful 5-minute video on the Compassion of God from the good folks at BibleProject.com. While the above reflection focused on the Greek of the New Testament, this video looks at the Hebrew Scriptures to explore the Divine Mercy and Compassion of God. It begins with a description of the character of God expressed in Exodus 34:6 in which rakhum, “compassion” is the first attribute given – a word related to the Hebrew word for “womb,” rekhem conveying the deep love of mother for child.

The cost of being in love

Our gospel is the well known story referred to as the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The reading opens with a question posed to Jesus: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  After recounting the parable, the reading closes with Jesus asking the one who posed the question: “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”  The man replied: “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Continue reading

The heart of men

What lies in the heart of men? If we would rely on the introduction from the popular radio series the Shadow, our answer would be – “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”  Given that we were created in the image and likeness of God, washed clean in the waters of Baptism, we began so hopeful, so innocent. What’s going on in the human heart? “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, Beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) In the language of the Bible “heart” means the core of the self, the deepest center of who we are, that place from which our thoughts and actions arise. Today’s gospel is none too hopeful about what lies in the heart of men:

From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:20-22)

This is not a lone passage from Scripture which echoes such sentiment. St. Paul notes the same problem and locates it a failure to believe in and honor God. There are consequences: “God handed them over to their undiscerning mind.” (Romans 1:28) He goes onto describe the result of people looking to themselves for a moral compass:

They are filled with every form of wickedness, evil, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, rivalry, treachery, and spite. They are gossips and scandalmongers and they hate God. They are insolent, haughty, boastful, ingenious in their wickedness, and rebellious toward their parents. They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:29-31)

If we are honest, each one of us can see something of ourselves in the list even if it is limited to envy and gossiping. What are we to do? St. Paul saw the root of the problem – the solution lies there, in your heart. Awake each day look into your heart to rediscover your love for God and give Him glory in prayer. Start each day in prayer. Each evening, examine your day and with hope pray:

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me…wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (Ps 51:3-4,9)

Let these be your treasure: “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:21). And in the morn, begin again.

In our midst

In the first reading today, we witness the Ark of the Covenant being moved into the Temple built by King Solomon. To know the story of the Ark of the Covenant is to enter into a geography and history lesson regarding Israel.

From its making in the foothills of Mt Sinai (Mt. Horeb), the Ark resided in a tent during the 40 years of wandering in the desert, finally crossing into the promised land with Joshua, and finding a home in Bethel, and eventually Shiloh – but still in a tent. Continue reading

Compassion

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.