Go and Learn...

Jesus, in Matthew 9:13, admonishes his listeners:
Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. 
This is one of those brilliant "bridges" connecting the Old Testament with the New Testament. From Jesus' lips, we hear a prophetic echo: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

What is this mercy? Is it being nice? Turning a blind eye? "Living and let live?"

Jesuit moral theologian Father James Keenan describes mercy as, "a willingness to enter into the chaos of others." It is a disposition on the part of a person to go where many fear to tread: the muck and mire and messiness of another's life. This is hardly a polite virtue, a breathless cry of "Mercy me!" Instead, it is a messy virtue requiring a person to get dirty, to get grime under the finger nails, to take on the odor of those in need.

A rather unglamorous virtue.

Nevertheless, it is the one to which we are called. For is it not mercy that:

  • Gives strength to the parent to rise from bed at 3:00 am to soothe a crying baby?
  • Enables a spouse to sit, night after night, with someone fading into the dusk of dementia?
  • Permits a teacher to prepare, day in and day out, to prepare so that he or she can be a vital force to the students?
  • That helps each of us, when called upon to do so, to stand with a sister or brother in need...not in order to take away a burden, but to share it? 
As I survey the issues that face the Church and our society, I cannot help but to think that what we need now, more than ever, is to attune ourselves to Keenan's definition: we must, as part of our baptismal call, be willing to enter the chaos of others. We cannot, we must not, content ourselves to stand aloof as children starve, as women are discriminated against, as any of our sisters and brothers in the human family are trampled upon, denigrated, or marginalized. 

Whether we like it or not, our shared baptism into Christ's dying and rising gives each of us the task of laboring with, of entering into, others. We are, as today's Gospel reminds us, to take up Christ's yoke. In the Incarnation, Christ entered into our own chaos as the enactor and revealer of God's mercy. In his life and ministry, Jesus showed us the shape mercy takes: radical inclusivity and reckless, prodigal welcome to those who have strayed. In his Risen Life and in the Church, he gives us a mission to "go and do likewise." 

We are not to talk about mercy. We must become it. 

As the sun rises each morning, and its rays dispel night's darkness, I must question myself: where, today, is the chaos into which I am being called to enter? If it takes more than a moment to for me to answer this, to recognize where the voices of my sisters and brothers cry out, then my prayers have been in vain. If I am unable to hear in my daily life the cry for mercy, the invitation to stand with another, then I have gone deaf to the rhythm that animates my faith and draws me ever more fervently into my discipleship. 





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