25 October 2010

Mercy is hard

30th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Ss. Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Our wounds are not healed by ideas or intentions alone. A gun shot wound really can't be healed by mercy as such. Neither can cancer, mental illness, nor addiction be treated by something as purely conceptual as love or forgiveness. Healing requires both intentions and acts. Imagine going into an emergency room with a broken arm and having the doctor stand over you while he intends to treat your arm! At some point, you're going to say, “Doc, are you going to do something?” How bizarre would it be for him to respond, “I am doing something. I'm thinking about healing you”? My guess is that you'd rather have his bad intention so long as he actually worked to fix your arm. In the abstract, mercy is easy. Doing merciful deeds is a little more complicated.

Jesus shows us how to be merciful by ridding a woman of a diseased spirit—an eighteen-year burden that has her bent over, making it impossible for her to stand erect. How exactly is this merciful? Relieving the sick of their diseases is in itself merciful. But Jesus goes one step further by healing her on the Sabbath. Rather than obeying a strict interpretation of the law that forbids work on the Sabbath, Jesus obeys the higher law of love and relieves the poor woman of her burden. Predictably, someone objects to this illegal act and calls Jesus out as a lawbreaker. Jesus' indignant retort to this charge humiliates his critic. He calls them hypocrites! Why shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be set free on the Sabbath from Satan’s bondage? The gathered crowd “rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.” And so they should: Jesus lifts from this crippled woman’s back not only the burden of a crippling spirit, but the burden of Law without Mercy as well. 

Paul picks up this teaching in his letter to the Ephesians. He writes, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us. . .” This doesn't mean that we are to become lawless lovers of some abstract deity. It does mean that we love first and follow the law accordingly. If we can't love, we can't follow any law that's based on love. In much the same way that abstract notions like mercy, forgiveness, and charity become real only when enacted, our love for God must be embodied, made real through our whole humanity—word, thought, and deed and not simply limited to “good intentions.” Our psalmist this morning puts it succinctly: “Behave like God as his very dear children!”

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  1. As a nun once said, when speaking of recovery from addiction:

    "Pray...........and row the boat!"

  2. Love that........