Friday, July 01, 2016

I Desire Mercy

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!  “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?  We will diminish the containers for measuring, add to the weights, and fix our scales for cheating!  We will buy the lowly man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”  (Amos 8:4-6)

The Pharisees saw (that Jesus was at table with Matthew, many other tax collectors and sinners) and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  (Matthew 9:10-13)

Lord, open my eyes to the plight of your neediest children.  Open my heart in love.  Show me how to give of my abundance.

Once, when I was in high school and had just gotten my driver’s license, my mother asked me to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things for her.  I was excited about this new privilege and responsibility.  I proudly walked into the store with my list and headed to the aisle my mom had marked for Spam.  (Yes, she and my father truly liked Spam.)  Found it!  Just as I was reaching for the can, an elderly man came up behind me and started yelling at me.  It is people like you who make it hard for me to eat, he bellowed.  That can of Spam has gone up such-and-such percent in the last week.  You shouldn’t buy it. Because you are going along with the increase in price is making it hard for me to afford to eat!  I almost dropped the can I was so startled!  I’d never before been yelled at by a complete stranger in a store.  I felt scared until I thought about what he had just said.  I was looking at Spam as undesirable food, but here was someone who couldn’t even afford what I was spurning.  He was yelling out of desperation and frustration.  Was I really doing something wrong?  I wondered.  Was I unknowingly part of something preventing people from being able to buy groceries? From the vantage point of many decades later, I think my sin was my blindness.  I took my middle-class, suburban lifestyle for granted.  My family wasn’t wealthy, but we never lacked for anything we needed.  Had my eyes been open, I might have noticed that not everyone in my town or my school was so fortunate.  Then I could have done something about it.

The prophet Amos takes this one step further in his preaching to the people in the Northern Kingdom, a very prosperous nation in his day.  He doesn’t accuse them of blindness to poverty and need.  He says, “You know the poor are in your midst, and you are deliberately exploiting them!  You are short-changing them when it comes to measuring the food you sell.  You are putting inedible refuse in the wares you hawk.  You are cheating the needy and laughing about it!  It still goes on today.” 

I’ve lived in several different places over the years, and I’ve noticed the same thing in each place.  A grocery store chain may charge the same prices in every store in a given geographical area, but if you go to that chain’s stores in lower income neighborhoods in that area, you discover that consumers don’t get the same bang for their buck.  Those stores often stock second-rate produce, while charging first-rate prices.  Maybe that goes for all the rest of what they sell, as well.  I’ve only ever taken note of the lower quality produce, but that was enough for me to realize what inequities there are in this world.

Jesus Christ Eats With Sinners
Engraved after artwork 
of Alexander Bida (1813-1895)
It’s no wonder Jesus is drawn to those the world tosses aside.  If he weren’t, who would love them?  Who would heal their illnesses?  Who would forgive their sins?

Jesus enjoyed eating with tax collectors and sinners who knew they were nobodies in their society.  They knew they needed a Savior.  Jesus didn’t waste time on people who were sure they had everything right; he went straight to those who were honest about their condition.

The man who yelled at me in the grocery store has long since departed this world.  But there are millions of others today who are hungry or starving.  And Jesus is asking us to take up his ministry of seeking the lost and forgotten.

Why not make a contribution this week to an organization that will feed the hungry? 

Here are a few suggestions:
SOME:  So Others Might Eat -
Catholic Charities, Arlington Diocese, Christ House Food Pantry -
Food for the Poor -
Catholic Relief Services -

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