Hmmm. The Other Cheek?

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

June 17, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from Matthew again shows us how revolutionary Jesus really was!

Yield

For the Jews who listened to Jesus, and for us still listening, today’s instructions might be some of the hardest to swallow! These readings encompass a phrase classically known as the lex talionis or the law of talion.

We may not be familiar with the phrase but we probably are quite familiar with the practice. Most of us begin it very early in life, at least in my young neighborhood we did. It went like this: Harry bites you, you bite him back. Janey pushes you, you push her harder. Margie takes your pickle, you take her peach. Right? Isn’t that the way it should be?

Well, Jesus says not, although his listeners had lived by variations of this law from the time of:

Exodus 21:23-25
But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

and Leviticus 24:19-21
Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

Believe it or not, these harsh injunctions were actually intended to placate situations by preventing a backlash disproportionate to the original crime.

But Jesus says that is not enough. He says not to resist the evildoer. Scholars have considered for centuries exactly what this means. 

Does it mean to ignore evil, not calling it out for what it is? Obviously not, because Jesus Himself was quick to name the evils of his times.

Does it mean to be a doormat for evil-hearted people to walk all over? Definitely not. Jesus stood up to his persecutors and clearly named their wrong-doing.

What it means is not to return evil for evil, not to respond in-kind, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:15

See that no one repays another with evil for evil,
but always seek after that which is good
for one another and for all people.

One of the key Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy is non-violence. I find it one of the most challenging.

Mercy

This article, written by Rosemarie Tresp, RSM proved very helpful to me. You might find it so as well.

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Music: Make Me a Channel of Your Peace – written by Sebastian Temple, sung by Susan Boyle

Power Failure?

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter
June 3, 2019
Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs

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Today, in Mercy, Acts gives us a brief lesson on the difference between John’s and Jesus’ baptism. John’s is a baptism of repentance, cleansing and preparing the soul for Christ. 

Baptism in Jesus unites us with Christ through the power of the indwelling Spirit. It is a dynamic and life-changing transformation.

But we are often so unaware of its power within us!

Col3_1

We are like the disciples in today’s Gospel. They think that, because they understand Christ’s word,  they have it all together. But Jesus warns them:

Do you believe now?
Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived
when each of you will be scattered to his own home
and you will leave me alone.

The distractions of this world can distort and muffle our Baptismal call. Jesus is warning his disciples that it is not easy to live a truly Christian life. Jesus tells them and us to “take courage”, to open our hearts to his power in us. And our Gospel verse from Colossians shows us the way:

If then you were raised with Christ,
seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

We are to make the higher choice always:

  • mercy over harshness
  • justice over retribution
  • forgiveness over vengeance
  • honesty over pretense
  • love over indifference
  • service over selfishness

In this way, our Baptismal power will shine, strengthening not only us, but the world we touch.

Music: The Lord Bless You and Keep You – John Rutter 

Let pray this prayer for one another today, Beloveds. May God strengthen and uplift your hearts in the power of your Baptism.

Open to the Light

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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May 15, 2019

Today, in Mercy, Jesus calls himself the Light.

Jn12_46_Light

Surely he came to bring us out of darkness which is light’s polar opposite. Most of us receive that deliverance with gratitude, understanding it to be our redemption from sin and separation from God.

As we grow deeper in our spiritual life, we may realize that there are many degrees of opposition to the Light. We may not find ourselves in the deep darkness of habitual sin, but rather on those tantalizing edges of spiritual laziness that can halt our soul’s growth:

  • the fog of faithless religious practice
  • the clouds of unresolved hurts and failures in forgiveness
  • the shadows of our religious prejudices
  • the dusk of our early energy for charity and community
  • the eclipse of hope and confidence in God

May God give us the grace to see that Light, too, comes in many forms, beaming through the smallest openings in our spirit. Every act, every choice, every silent prayer made for the sake of Love allows that Light to grow. You may like to pray with that thought while appreciating this poem of Denise Levertov:

Bearing the Light

Rain-diamonds, this winter morning, 
embellish the tangle of unpruned pear-tree twigs; 
each solitaire, placed, it appears, with considered judgement, 
bears the light beneath the rifted clouds – 
the indivisible shared out in endless abundance.

Music: some beautiful instrumental music from Kathryn Kaye for your prayer time.

Be Made New!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus writes new rules for life in the venerable Jerusalem dust.

Jn8_1_11JPG

Jesus enjoys an early morning walk from the Mount of Olives to the Temple. The weather, no doubt, was typically beautiful since others easily gathered and sat around Jesus to hear his teaching.

But the Pharisees, vigilant for an opportunity to condemn Jesus, executed a mean-hearted plot.

Dragging a woman “caught in the act of adultery” before the encircled men, they demanded Jesus’s judgment of the distraught woman.

Imagine the woman’s terror.  Her poverty and loneliness have already forced her into an ignoble commerce. Had she the chance, she surely would have chosen an easier life.

Now, her meager quarters have been broken into, her privacy invaded in the most intimate of circumstances.  Her adulterous accomplice has either turned her in, or absconded in cowardice. She is surrounded by brutal accusers, many of whom are likely her former customers.

But Jesus sees the woman, not her sin. He responds to her heart not her actions.  He also sees these evil, plotting men and responds to their veiled motivations.

Wouldn’t we love to know what Jesus scribbled in the Temple dirt as these blood-thirsty hypocrites hung over him?

Might it have been the names of those who also visited the woman on earlier nights?

Might it have been some of their hidden sins?

Challenged to cast the first stone if they were sinless, the plotters slowly slink away.  Jesus is left to forgive and heal this suffering woman.

Jesus tells her to go and sin no more, to -as the first reading says – “remember not the things of the past”. Jesus has made her into a new person by the power of his mercy.

May that renewing mercy touch us, and our world, where we sorely need it.

May it flow through our renewed hearts to everyone we encounter, no matter the circumstances.

Music:  Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd

A New Day Awaits

Sunday, March 31, 2019

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1 Cor new creation

Today, in Mercy,  halfway through Lent, we see in our readings glimpses of new life.

The captivity in Egypt had been TOUGH on Israel. During those many decades, they had appeared to be abandoned and forgotten by God.  It was a harsh reckoning for them … hard to be forgotten. Even then, when they thought they had found freedom, they still wandered for forty years in the desert.

But now Israel stands at a new horizon.  Moses has died and Joshua has become Israel’s leader.  God tells him that it is a new day:

“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

In our second reading, Paul tells us:

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.

And in our revered Gospel story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us:

This beloved child of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
was lost, and has been found.

All of these passages speak to us in our Lenten journey, and in our Life journey.  We have experienced our own “Egypts”, times when we felt disconnected, even abandoned, by God.  We have sometimes felt we were journeying aimlessly toward an unknown goal. We have at times wandered, like the prodigal son, from the path of God’s love. We have darknesses in our memories that still long for Light.

This poem from Mary Oliver might capture the feeling for us:

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
~ Mary Oliver ~

In today’s readings, God is reminding us that the Light awaits us. Forgiveness, reconciliation, new energy and grace are the gifts of Easter – the gifts where we must keep our eyes focused as we journey.

So let us do as e.e.cummings encourages us in this poem:

Let It Go – e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love


Music: Remember Not the Things of the Past – Bob Hurd
(Lyrics below)

Remember not the things of the past;
now I do something new,
do you not see it?
Now I do something new, says the Lord.

In our distress God has grasped us by the hand,
opened a path in the sea, and we shall pass over,
we shall pass over, free at last.

In our parched land of hypocrisy and hate,
God makes a river spring forth,
a river of mercy, truth and compassion; come and drink.

And who among us is sinless in God’s sight?
Then who will cast the first stone, when he who was sinless
carried our failings to the cross?

Pressing ahead, letting go what lies behind,
may we be found in the Lord, and sharing his dying,
share in his rising from the dead.

Mercy, like spring rain…

Saturday, March 30, 2019

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Hosea6_3 rainJPG

Today, in Mercy, our two readings encourage us to be humble and repentant.

In the reading from Hosea, God is very clear:

For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice,
and knowledge of God
rather than burnt offerings.

In our Gospel, Jesus tells us the parable of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax collector. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his judgmental self-satisfaction with all the sacrifices he’s made:

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.

I fast twice a week,
and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

On the other hand, we have the scorned tax collector ( a status we can understand this time of year:-)  who admits his weakness and need for God’s mercy.

Oh God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

The readings are really about seeing ourselves in the light of God’s truth, while knowing that our merciful God loves us infinitely, even in our weakness. They are about being open to that mercy so that we can know the fullness of God’s grace.

Music: Humble – Audrey Assad

To See As God Sees

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings describe God’s lavish mercy and the expectation for our reciprocity.

love one another

The passage from the Book of Daniel, written in lilting prose, quotes the prayer of Azariah. It gives us several phrases to savor in our own prayer, depending on the particular disposition of our heart on any given day:

To whom you promised …. like the stars of heaven, or the sand on the shore of the sea.
What has God promised you to give you hope in your life? Can you call on those promises today in your prayer?

For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation…
Are you feeling sad, disconnected, humiliated or depressed? Can you give these feelings to God and open your heart to healing?

We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
Do you ever feel abandoned by the institutions we all once depended on, whether Church, government, law etc.? Can we pray for the courage to depend only on God in all things?

Now we follow you with our whole heart…
Have our life circumstances brought us to the point of placing ourselves totally in God’s care? Can we pray with that peaceful and holy abandonment?

Deliver us by your wonders, and bring glory to your name, O Lord.Can our prayer be one of giving glory to God for all the blessings in our lives?

God has been so good to us! Our Gospel enjoins us to be reciprocally good to others.

Music: Give Me Your Eyes – An interesting song by rock singer Brian Heath. As his plane is landing one night, he receives a grace to pray for new eyes — eyes that see and love  all humanity as God does.

This One’s Pretty Difficult!

Monday, March 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to be merciful, as God is merciful.

I think that’s really hard.

Lk6_36 be merciful

Being merciful is not too hard with poor, unfortunate souls for whom life is one tragedy after another.

It’s not too hard when someone innocent is suffering unjustly.

But, gosh, it’s difficult to be merciful in the face of meanness, stupidity, selfishness and arrogance.

Yet God is merciful to me when I’m like that.

The Gospel’s message is painfully straightforward. It calls me to examine all my judgmental thoughts and actions and to reverse them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be busy for a while working on this one.

Music: The Mercy Song – Paul Alexander

Take It Up a Notch

Friday, March 15, 2019

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Mt5_24 brother
Today, in Mercy, Jesus tells us to take it up a notch. It’s not good enough, he says, not to kill people.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you …

When we first read this, we might think we’re pretty safe. After all, how many of us actually kill people?!?! 

But let’s check that, Jesus says:

  • Don’t remain angry with your sister/brother
  • Don’t call them  “empty head” (raqa)
  • Don’t call them fools 

Jesus seems to be telling us that there are many ways to kill!

  • We can kill the possibility of relationship by our unresolved angers, grudges, sustained hatred of people.
  • We can kill hope in someone by labeling them stupid or foolish.
  • We can easily kill someone’s reputation by a false or injudicious word.
  • We can kill joy by our indifference.
  • We can kill love with ingratitude.
  • We can kill innocence with any of the seven deadly sins

It takes vigorous spiritual attention to live at the level Jesus is asking of us. Let’s give our souls that particular attention, especially during our Lenten journey.

Music: The Servant Song – Maranatha

A Covenant of Love

Sunday, February 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our reading from 1 Samuel tells the intriguing tale of David’s magnanimity toward Saul. Saul is enraged and jealous of David whom Samuel has anointed as king to replace Saul. David is continually in Saul’s crosshairs.

But one night, David stealthily enters Saul’s camp. Even though he has a chance to kill Saul, David spares his life out of respect for his kingship.

While it’s not exactly “love for his enemies”, David does demonstrate a largeness of spirit that foretells today’s Gospel. This gracious spirit demonstrates that David is in right relationship (covenant) with God.

Our Gospel is part of Jesus’s Great Sermon in which he restates and renews the covenant of right relationship. If our spirits are true to God, we will love as God loves. We are to be merciful as God is merciful.

Lk6_38 measure

This Law of Love is the essence of life in Christ. It is a profoundly challenging call.

How hard it must have been for David as he stood, spear in hand, over his sleeping enemy – over the one trying to kill him!

How hard it is for us not to be vengeful, retaliatory, and parsimonious when we feel threatened or exploited.

But we are called, in Christ, to the New Covenant of love. By that call, we are endowed with a right spirit.

Today, Jesus asks us to love, forgive, and judge all others as we ourselves would want to be treated. He asks us to live with a divinely magnanimous heart.

Let us pray for the strength to respond.

Music: O Mercy – Stu Garrard, Matt Maher and Audrey Assad