Tuesday, April 2, 2019
Today, in Mercy, our readings bring to mind the role of religion in our spiritual life.
The dictionary defines religion as a particular system of faith and worship. The origin of the word “religion” is from the Latin “religare”: to bind.
In the magnificent passage from Ezekiel, we are given a metaphorical description of grace flowing from the Temple, the locus of faith for Israel. Ezekiel is led by a radiant vision to this source of abundant life symbolized by water. Slowly and incrementally, this abundance deepens for Ezekiel, until he is swimming in its grace.
Ezekiel’s vision demonstrates what happens in us when religion, ritual and law enhance grace. The beauty, power and architectural symmetry of the Temple symbolize the great benefits of religious practice.
Our Gospel, on the other hand, shows us a Pharisaical religion built on empty practice and bereft of heart. When Jesus cures on the Sabbath, he moves beyond these skeletal boundaries to mercy, which is the reason for all religious practices.
Jesus shows us that when religion – and its ensuing ritual and law – bind grace, it needs to be set aside. His whole life was predicated on a faith which generated mercy, not sacrifice. The alleviation of suffering and need always supersede observance – even on the Sabbath.
When we see any so-called faith or religion which places law over mercy, we see an empty temple where the river of grace has run dry. Our culture is filled with fake holiness that measures, condemns and ostracizes others. We see religion distorted into political bullying. We see it redefined as an excuse for excessive wealth. We even see it used as legitimization for nationalism, violence, racism, and war.
Today’s readings tell us to be on guard. The forces which twist religion are very subtle and pervasive in our culture. They dress themselves in impressive words and practices, just like the Pharisees did, but their costumes hide an ugly hate and fear.
To the fearful and weak, these forces preach power – but it is a power over not for others.
Jesus has shown us what faithful practice looks like: mercy and love. It is vulnerable, courageous, inclusive, and humble. It sees the suffering of others and responds. It waters the Temple of our hearts to make them verdant with hope, joy and generosity.
Music: Come to the Water – John Foley, SJ and Matt Maher