The Second Sunday in Lent
The Gospel. St. Matthew 15. 21.
At that time; Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then she came and worshiped him saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
Mercy. Here’s yet another word that we tend to “undervalue”. We hear it all the time in our liturgy; “Lord have mercy upon us”, “have mercy upon us most merciful Father”. And of course, there’s our day-to-day use of the word. How many of us have at one time or another exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy”! The only problem with all these references is that in each case, they are only asking for mercy for us.
To better understand this concept, let us look at some of the definitions of the word “Mercy”; compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; (OK, so far, so good) a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion; (Yeah, we’re still on track) compassionate treatment of those in distress. Uh oh.
Let’s think about that one again; compassionate treatment of those in distress. That means that instead of asking for mercy for ourselves, we are supposed to show mercy, compassionate treatment, to others. Well, you may ask, just what does that mean? Fortunately, the Church has given us some help.
There are two forms of mercy; corporal, or physical works; and spiritual works. Tradition lists the corporal works as;
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To harbour the harbourless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
Likewise, the spiritual works of mercy are:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
OK, got it? Now go and do. Thank you for your attention…
Oh wait a minute. I haven’t told you why, have I? I mean, we all know why we want mercy. We know that we’ve messed up and that we need God to forgive us, to have compassion for us, to grant us His divine favor. More specifically, we know that it’s our sins that caused THAT!
In my former secular occupation, we quite often used a particular word; that word was “ownership”. In this context, what the word “ownership” meant is that a situation has come up, and while you didn’t necessarily cause it to happen; you took responsibility, ownership, for the problem, because you knew how to resolve it and because it was the right thing to do.
God took ownership of our sins. He didn’t cause them, but He knew how to solve the problem; and He did it because it was the right thing to do; Because He had compassionate treatment of those in distress; because He had mercy on us.
So why do we need to be compassionate towards others? Well, the easy answer is that Jesus told us to. But really, it’s about ownership. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about seeing someone in need and taking the responsibility to feed them, shelter them, visit them, bury them. Take ownership. Have mercy.
It’s also about teaching those who do not know the faith. That’s everyone’s responsibility, not just the clergy. Take ownership. Have mercy.
It’s about admonishing sinners. When you see family and friends committing obvious sins, denying the faith, refusing to go to church, whatever it is, you must tell them. Take ownership. Have mercy.
It’s about counseling the doubtful. There are some who are so troubled by events in this world that they wonder whether there even is a God. Some years ago, in the wake of a tsunami disaster in Indonesia, even the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that he could understand how people would question the existence of God (although, if you know anything about that particular Archbishop, this should come as no surprise). We must be the ones to tell these people that, yes, there is a God, and that He loves them. Take ownership. Have mercy.
It’s about being patient when someone offends you, and even more importantly, it’s about forgiving those who have offended you. I don’t care if it’s a friend, neighbor, family member, or even a bishop or priest. Take ownership. Have mercy.
Mercy. Compassionate treatment. It’s simply the right thing to do. Anyone still wonder why? In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus comes upon a man who has been blind since birth. His disciples ask, whose fault is this? Who committed the sin that this man should be blind since birth? Was it his parents, or was it his own fault? Jesus answers; it’s not the fault of either. This man is blind so that the works of God, the Glory of God, can be shown. The act of mercy that Jesus performs by giving the man his sight is the vehicle by which God’s glory is made evident.
That’s why we are commanded to have mercy on others; to clothe and feed them; to teach them, admonish them, pray for them. We do these things so that God’s glory will be made evident to the world. We do these things because it’s the right thing to do.
As always, of course, we can choose not to. We can say that we have no more money to give. We can turn down a friends request for help. We can shake our heads and stay silent when our family and friends are sinning, or in doubt, or in ignorance of the faith. We do not have to be compassionate. We do not have to show mercy.
However, if you expect to receive mercy from God, well then, you might have a problem. From the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, beginning at verse 41; (Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal).
There. Now you know what your choice is. If you expect to receive mercy, you must likewise show mercy. For those of us who choose not to give more money, help a friend, stay silent in the face of the sins or doubts of others, well we know what our ultimate fate will be, don’t we? It’s our choice. This is one of the few times when it is about you. You decide. Take ownership.
I conclude with these words from a Stations of the Cross service that was at one time used at St. Paul’s in Grand Rapids; “But do thou, in thy great mercy, receive our immortal souls, and when our bodies have risen again, place them likewise in thy kingdom, that we may love and bless thee for ever and ever”. It is right that we should pray for God’s Mercy for ourselves; but we must always remember that we have likewise been commanded to show compassionate treatment, to others. We have been commanded to take ownership, and to have mercy.