Sunday, July 06, 2014

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. 


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Great post Ryan. The cornerstone of our faith is mercy. Saint Pope John Paul II was correct to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy. The test of real and true faith is whether or not the believer can be merciful, loving and forgiving.

Thanks for this post and the last one as well.


Ryan G. Duns said...

My initial impulse was to offer a clever response to the Anonymous post. I mean, I have a pretty good tracker on my blog and I was going to suggest that, when I come to Minnesota this August, I could swing by the Hennepin County Government Center so that we might resolve these issues over a beer. Like men.

Then it was revealed to me that Anonymous was hardly such: he has a name! We'll call him CK at the moment. Anyway, CK has a habit of trolling blogs and saying some pretty vicious things...all, of course, under the veil of anonymity.

Well, that's been torn away. I know who this guy is and I want to extend to him what he has not extended to others: Mercy. I'm pretty confident that CK is the same person who sent rather calumnious letters to my place of employment almost five years ago. Yet I'm not going to out him, at least not yet. I'm a Christian, a fellow sinner, and I offer him mercy.

CK, I sent you a friend request on Facebook. You don't have to accept it but, if you do, you may write me there. We can sort this out like adults. If you wish to perpetuate this, I'm open to it as well. The distinct advantage I have is that I've never hidden my identity. You have gone to great lengths to hide yours and, I suspect, you'd not want me posting your name all over the net.

Ryan G. Duns said...


I took the liberty of deleting your comment. It's deleted but not gone forever: I saved a good screen shot of it for posterity.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha did a quick google search on the topics of CK's post, and found his own blog easily enough--it's fascinatingly weird. Reading it is a trip--like watching someone awake from a trauma-induced coma and try to make sense of the world around himself. Cheers to you, insane person!