Thursday, October 29, 2015

Compassion and Mercy

By Colleen O’Sullivan

“… I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:2-3)

Then he said to (the Pharisees and scholars of the law) “Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?” (Luke 14:5-6)

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy;
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
In order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error;
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.  (From Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee)

Another set-up by the Pharisees.  Jesus is invited to dinner at one of their homes.  All the invited guests know it’s a trap, so they watch intently to see what will happen.  Luke tells us they place a man suffering from dropsy right in front of Jesus.  It is, of course, the Sabbath.  Hopefully, Jesus will break the law and they can snare him.

Unless we read books written many years ago, dropsy isn’t a word we are familiar with.  Substitute edema or retention of fluid and you’ve got the picture.  The cause could be anything from kidney problems to heart disease.  Whatever the cause, it’s not a condition anyone wants to have.  Swollen hands, legs, ankles, or feet – people tend to stare.  The person with the condition is likely to be very uncomfortable.  Joints don’t bend easily and getting around can be difficult.  If heart problems are the cause, breathing could be difficult.  How despicable the Pharisees are, taking a suffering person and trying to use him as their pawn in an entrapment scheme. 

Jesus heals the man and turns on the host and his fellow scholars.  He points out that if it was something valuable to them that was endangered, they wouldn’t hesitate to save their child or their work animal no matter what the day.  So, “Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?”  Don’t compassion and mercy in the face of human need outweigh the bazillion man-made laws zealously enforced by the Pharisees about exactly how much energy anyone could expend on the Sabbath before they broke the rules.  And there were lots of rules in Jesus’ day, down to the permissible weight of a lamp that could be moved from one side of a room to the other on the Sabbath.

The Pharisees don’t realize that Jesus is the human face of God.  They don’t stop to consider how often throughout the history of their people God has been kind and compassionate to them.  But that’s exactly what Paul is reflecting on in our first reading.  God gave my people everything, he muses – life, love, the Law, prophets to call them back when they strayed, forgiveness.  Even the longed-for Messiah was one of us.  Yet many of my people have turned their backs on what God has wrought in our midst. 

This lament of the apostle Paul is only a very small part of a larger section encompassing chapters 9-11 of his letter to the Romans.  The overall emphasis is more on the faithfulness of God than the faithlessness of some of his people.  If there is a bright light in any of this, it is that the unbelief of some of the Jews has allowed the Gospel to spread to all the world through the Gentiles.  Paul ends these chapters saying that God has not rejected Israel; they are the people God chose.  God will patiently wait for them to respond.  At the end of chapter 11, Paul asserts that whatever God is doing and however God is doing it, God ultimately wants to show mercy to all (11:32).

Mercy and compassion – the threads running through both our Scripture readings today.  Mercy and compassion – the threads running through the discussions at the Synod on the Family these past few weeks in Rome.  Mercy – the theme for the upcoming extraordinary jubilee year proclaimed by Pope Francis.

Mercy and compassion – the gifts God wants us to extend to others.  How well do we do that?  

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