Saint Ignatius of Loyola taught that there are three voices:
-The voice of God
-The voice of demons
-The voice of humanity/psychology
The voice of God in the Gospel cannot be any clearer in the Gospel reading for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Luke 6:31-36). Mercy figures prominently in this reading. So, too, in the Divine Liturgy where in Litany of Peace, after every intention prayed by the deacon, the congregation prays, Lord, have mercy…for peace from on high, for peace in the whole world, for the union of the churches of God, for our Holy Father Francis, for our most reverend Metropolitan William, our God-loving Bishop Kurt, the priests, deacons, and all the people, for seasonable weather and abundance of the fruits of the earth, for this city and every city, for the sick, the suffering, and the captive, for those who travel by sea, land, and air. Lord, have mercy.
In Hebrew the word is chesed. Mercy doesn’t quite capture its full meaning. Some have suggested that loving kindness better captures the meaning of chesed.
What can be better than experiencing the mercy, chesed, the loving kindness of another, especially that of God, who is Perfect Love? In Psalm 63:4, the Psalmist David prays, “Because your mercy is better than life, my lips will praise you.”
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus invoke the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Lest that seem fairly simple rule to keep, Jesus immediately raises the bar, saying it’s no big deal to love someone who loves you. Even a bully can love a bully! He tells us to “…love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We have our marching orders, but what does that mean for our day to day lives? What does mercy or loving kindness look like? Consider the story of a beloved fictional character.
Before his conversion experience Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge personified the opposite of mercy: greed. One life-changing Christmas Eve in Victorian England, Scrooge was approached by two upstanding Christian men asking that he offer a donation for the poor in the workhouses. Scrooge’s response? “I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the [workhouses]—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
To which the men responded: “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
Scrooge’s retort? “If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides—excuse me—It’s not my business. It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”
Whose voice was Scrooge listening to? Certainly not God’s. How self-absorbed! He harbored such bitterness toward the poor. After all, it was his taxes that helped pay for the workhouses. It was as if the poor were stealing his money . Scrooge was a slave to his passions and desires. There was no room for anything or anybody. His appetite for money could never be satisfied – to the neglect of anybody and everybody. Then, later that night, Scrooge had a series of dreams in which he encountered spirits who helped him to see the selfish, self-absorbed man he had become. When he awoke on Christmas morning he was a new man. He became a man for others, merciful, and eager to help others.
The next day he told his longtime clerk, Bob Cratchitt that he would raise his salary, after many years without one, and assist his struggling family. He promised to help Cratchitt’s crippled son, Tiny Tim. At that he kept his word, becoming like a second father to Tim.
My brothers and sisters, to show mercy or loving kindness takes us out of ourselves. A merciful person is selfless, open, and free to offer loving kindness to his brother, sister, and, yes, as Jesus insists, even his enemy.
So what are the ways of mercy? The ways are many.
-To feed the hungry, and to give drink to the thirsty.
-To clothe the naked, and to give shelter to travelers.
-To visit the sick and the imprisoned. Isn’t sickness – both physical and mental – often, a form of imprisonment?
-To bury the dead. Can we ever doubt the comfort the family receives when we help bury their dead?
-To give counsel to those who waver in their faith, and to instruct those who are ignorant in the faith.
-Without judgment and in humility, to admonish the sinner, remembering always that you are a sinner.
-To comfort the sorrowful with a visit, a listening ear, or a homemade meal. Isn’t it comforting to know that you are not going through a great loss all alone?
-To forgive injuries. This is the act of mercy which allows all other acts to flow. It’s a tough one, but every time we pray as Jesus taught us we ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
-To bear wrongs patiently – difficult as it may be. God never asked anything of us that he did not endure on the Cross.
-To pray for the living and the dead. Prayer makes a difference, for those we pray for and for us.
These are the ways of chesed – mercy – loving kindness. When we fail to be merciful, we are allowing ourselves to be swayed by the often very loud voices of the demons and of our humanity. Pray to God that we listen to His voice, and not be swayed by these other voices so that we embrace the ways of mercy, that we be transformed and treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, even those whom we consider enemies and those who have hurt us.
Jesus has certainly raised the bar. His expectations are high, but as the Lord said to Saint Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Did you hear that? Power is made perfect in weakness. Because of this, Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he would rather boast most gladly of [his] weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with [him]. He wrote: “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
May we be open to the grace of God, that we be made perfect in our weakness so that we live our lives in the ways of God’s mercy in a world which so desperately needs it.
Homily by Deacon Thomas P. Shubeck