Friday, July 07, 2017

Mercy, Not Condemnation by Colleen O’Sullivan

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.  (Psalm 106:1b)

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.  He said to him, “Follow me.”  And he got up and followed him.  While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.  The Pharisees saw this 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 9:9-13)

Our own belief in you, O Lord,
is only a shadow of your faith in us,
only a shadow of your faith in us,
your deep and lasting faith.
(from Only a Shadow, Carey Landry)

Matthew’s unhappy musings as he sits at the customs post: I hate my life. I can’t stand sitting here day after day, despised by all who pass by.   I wish with all my heart that I knew how to do something else.  I should have listened to my mother when I was younger.  Back then I thought she was a horrible nag:  Mattie, study harder.  Mattie, let us help you find someone who can teach you a trade.  No, I frittered my youth away and then one day, I found tax collecting was one of the only jobs open to me, probably because no one else wanted to stoop this low.  It didn’t sound so bad at first.  Easy money.  Just inflate what you tell people they owe in taxes to the Romans and keep the extra for yourself.

But now I feel like a pariah.  Everyone knows the truth about me and it shows in their disdain toward me.  They know I don’t do an honest day’s work.  I guess you could even say I am making my way through life on the back of extortion and lies.

I wish I could do something different, but what?  And how?  Who would even want to associate with someone of my ilk long enough to discuss a new job?

There’s that guy Jesus over there, the one everyone is talking about.   Oh no, he’s heading over here.  What could he possibly want with me?  He’s a healer, everyone says, but what could he want with me?

He’s asking me to follow him!  I don’t know where he’s going, but what do I have to lose?  I’m miserable sitting here and about ready to pack it in, anyway.  I’m just desperate enough that I’m going to see where he’ll lead me.

Jesus has a loving way of looking at us, a way of seeing past the outer trappings.  He could see how desperately unhappy Matthew was.  Even more, he could see the person Matthew could be, given half a chance.  Jesus is merciful.  He doesn’t berate the tax collector for his life of fraud and deceit.  He calls him away from that life and offers him the chance to be the person God created him to be.  And Matthew takes him up on it.

Jesus sits with him at dinner, offering him something to eat and drink, inviting him to enjoy the fellowship around the table.  Maybe this is the first time in Matthew’s adult life that he has felt genuinely welcome and accepted.

Picture Jesus looking at you.  Maybe there are things in your life you’d rather Jesus didn’t see.  But if you look into Jesus’ eyes, you will find compassion rather than condemnation.  As Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading, he desires mercy, not sacrifice.  Jesus isn’t about to throw you to the wolves; his eyes speak of second chances, a better life if you’ll let him take your hand and lead you.

What Jesus asks in return is that we look at others through this same lens of mercy.  Don’t look with disdain on the homeless, the poor, the imprisoned, the strangers – refugees and immigrants – in our midst.  Look for the human beings behind the labels we put on them.  They’re actually just like you and me.  Every one of us has a story.  Every person has hopes.  We all desire a good life for ourselves and our loved ones.  We want to be safe, we want to have a place to call home.  We want our children to have enough to eat and the opportunity for an education. 

Remember the words of St. Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body now but yours.  No hands, no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Be the one who, like Jesus, looks beyond the obvious and extends a helping hand, the hand of hope.

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