13th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA
Moses was tongue-tied. King David was a murderer and an adulterer. John the Baptist was smelly locust-eating hobo wandering 'round the desert. St. Matthew was a tax-collector for the enemy of his people. Saul hunted down and jailed Christians before the Holy Spirit got him. Jesus himself named St. Peter “Satan,” and Peter later lied about even knowing Jesus. . .three times! St. Moses the Ethiopian was a murderer and a gang leader. St. Augustine was a fornicator and a heretic. St. Francis was blowing his daddy's money on wine and women. St. Patrick worshiped idols and Blessed Giles worshiped the Devil. St. John of the Cross nearly drank and gambled his life away.* When Jesus hears the Pharisees criticizing him for eating with tax collectors and hookers, he says, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. . .I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” If the blood of the martyrs waters the seed of the Church, then the repentance of sinners is the harvest she reaps. Our Lord sees us exactly as we are, without filter, without sentiment. . .warts, scars, scabs. . .he sees it all. And he says to each and every one of us, warty, scabby, and scarred, “Follow me.”
To follow him, Jesus says we need to learn the meaning of “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Our Lord is paraphrasing the prophet, Hosea, pointing us toward what is fundamental to our life in the Spirit – if we will to follow the Father's will for our lives, then we will show mercy and receive mercy rather than rely on the sketchy effectiveness of sacrifices and ritual purity to relieve us of the burdens of sin. A life lived in mercy necessarily grows in holiness. The one who receives mercy is relieved sin's guilt, and the who shows mercy is relieved of the burden of seeking restitution for the offense. Everyone is freed from the stain of sin! And holiness is possible only when we are free. The animal sacrifices and ritual purity of the Pharisees only temporarily imputes cleanliness; that is, they can only pretend to be clean and only for a short time. This means that Pharisaical holiness cannot grow; it is holiness on a meter with the clock ticking down. When Jesus quotes Hosea, he turns us toward the First Commandment of Love, and says, “How you show and receive mercy is how you love one another.” Shut out the adulterer b/c he is an adulterer, or refuse to love the thief b/c she is a thief, and the entire Christian project fails. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. . .I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
And what did he come to call us sinners to? Repentance. He calls us to turn ourselves around, re-orient ourselves toward righteousness, and come home to our loving Father. Showing mercy to the sinner in no way implies approval or acceptance of his/her sin. Receiving mercy as a sinner in no way implies that my sin is not sin. I can only show another mercy for a sin; in other words, if there is no sin, then showing mercy is pointless. And I can only receive mercy for a sin; in other words, if my sin is unconfessed, then mercy is pointless. The whole purpose of mercy is to destroy the power of sin and death over those caught in its grasp. Confession and repentance are necessary, otherwise sin and death squeeze just that much tighter. All the saints I mentioned before are saints b/c they all tired of the oppression of sin and sought their freedom in God's mercy. They all grew to be saints b/c they practiced mercy. Being free of sin and death, and living toward eternal life. . .that's why we were made and re-made in Christ. Our Lord says, “Follow me.”
*Saints Behaving Badly, 2006.
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