Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Mercy of God

July 15, 2007 Year C
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time/7th Sunday After Pentecost

Reflections on the Readings by Dennis Hankins

Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, 36, 37
Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37

Theme: The Mercy of God

To be in the world and not of it is the meaning of relevant Christian witness.

While God’s holiness teaches us that we are not of the world, it is His mercy that teaches us how to be in the world. I remember asking a retired abbot friend of mine if becoming more prayerful, more contemplative would make me more absent to my family and friends. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “No, it will make you more present.”

Jesus’ teaching is filled with admonitions to be like salt and light in the world. As salt we bring the flavor and preserving power of God’s mercy. As light we bring the teaching and rule of God’s kingdom. Both ways are the proverbial two sides of the same coin, revealing the benevolence of God.

In the parable, the expert in God’s law reveals his own selfishness. He loves God and himself, but not his neighbor as himself. This is no doubt the reason he desires to justify himself. His attempt to show himself in good standing with the Almighty is not lost on our Lord. This is why Jesus shares the story of what it means to be holy and a neighbor.

Jericho lies about 17 miles east of Jerusalem at a descent of about 3200 feet. The way is rugged and a noted region for unsafe travel. Such is why the man’s experience in this story would have been relevant to our expert in the law. The priest and the Levite, the designated lay associate to the priest, exemplify adherence to the requirements of the law. The law stated that to touch the dead corpse of anyone outside of next to kin would be to incur ceremonial uncleanness. And ceremonial uncleanness for a priest in Israel included not touching the dead corpse of even his mother or father. Such ritual uncleanness would invoke declaring oneself unclean until sundown and taking a ritual bath before returning to priestly duty. So we understand how someone appearing even half dead is inconvenient and very much to be avoided. (See Lev. 21)

We today have our own righteousness rituals that give a false assurance of holiness and eternal life. Some don’t smoke, drink or dance and consequently do not associate with those who do. And while some would never ever watch pornographic movies will in the secrecy of their thoughts commit adultery because of a lustful heart. The prophets sent to Israel addressed Israel’s loving God with all of the right words while their heart was far from him. God has never been pleased with ceremonial cleanness in the absence of a pure and merciful heart. There must not be a disconnect between ritual purity and moral purity. The pure in heart not only have a clear vision of God, but also possess a clear vision of their neighbor made in the image of God. He who has seen me has seen the Father said Jesus. And feeding the poor and clothing the naked is to have done it unto Christ.

Jesus himself crossed these lines in touching the dead and the lepers and the woman taken in the very act of adultery with his great and merciful love. And the story of the man who fell among thieves is Jesus’ story of consecrating us to himself with the oil of confirmation and nourishing us with the wine of his blood. One day he will return and receive us to himself so that where He is we may be also. In the meantime He has given us a home in the Inn of His Church. Here we can grow in our understanding of the great love with which he has loved us. Here we can be transformed and renewed daily in our minds and in our hearts. And from here we can go into all of the world embracing the lost, the lonely, the least among us with the mercy with which he embraces us.

Christ is Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is Lord of both the Church and the World. The same Lord is he whose property is always to have mercy. He is the same Lord over all things and time and eternity having reconciled to himself all that is whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

This is why our prayer of humble access at every Eucharist is, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, (or that you should come under my roof) but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

This is the mercy we receive; this is the mercy we share for the life of the world.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to return to my first love, the love with which you loved me first. In this, your friendship will instruct me in the ways of neighborly kindness and mercy. May the closeness of your friendship bring me closer to you, to my wife and children and to all who need a friend. As always may this maxim be mine: To make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ. Amen.

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