The Muddied Healer

Memorial of Saints Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop

February 14, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel gives us one my favorite portrayals of Jesus. It’s what I think of as “down in the dirt with us” Jesus. Let me give you some background on the image.

When I was a kid in North Philly, my buddy’s dog was hit by a car. We were playing baseball in a cinder lot about a half block away. We saw it happen and watched the injuring car speed off.

Petey ran screaming toward his dog, the rest of us streaming behind him. I can still see Petey lie down beside that whimpering mutt who had been tossed into a muddy gully along Philip Street. He cradled the bruised head and whispered to the frightened eyes. Then Petey quietly said, “Get my Dad”, as he stroked Lightening’s heaving back.

In that moment in my memory, Petey became an image of the Divine Healer who – muddied and bloodied — has taken a place beside all of us as we suffer.

In today’s Gospel, there is stunning humanness. The suffering man doesn’t just ask for a miracle. He asks for a hand to be laid on him, for a touch, for a connection he can feel. And Jesus hears his deep human need.

Some miracles are accomplished by a fleshless, electric word shot through the air. But not this one.

tongue
Be Opened – Thomas Davidson (1872)

With this lonely, isolated man, feel Jesus caress your head, finger the ears that have heard so much criticism and frustration. Feel Jesus touch your tongue, so twisted in its attempts to speak your meaning into the world. Receive the surprising gift of Divine spittle that intends to insure, “I am part of you now. You will never be alone again.”

Hear Christ’s groan as he prays for you in sounds that plead, “Get my Dad. ABBA, Father.”

Ephphatha

Hear the definite pronouncement of your liberation from anything that tongue-ties, heart-ties, soul-ties your life:

“Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”)

Music:  Lord, You Put a Tongue in My Mouth – Divine Hymns

Shine!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 9, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, our readings are threaded on a theme of light, justice, and healing.

Is58_8wound

Isaiah writes to a formerly exiled community trying to restore itself after returning to Jerusalem. Tensions, meanness, and dissatisfactions tear at the community. Focus on religious rituals becomes excessive while communitarian practices are ignored.

It is a sad and fractious time for Israel.

Isaiah tells them they are missing the whole point.  The path to healing their national soul is not through empty religious words and practices.

If you remove from your midst
oppression, false accusation and malicious speech;
if you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday.


In our second reading, Paul writes to the Corinthian community similarly disturbed. He reminds the Corinthians that he came to build Christian community among them humbly and open to the Holy Spirit. Like Isaiah in the first reading, Paul now reminds his community not to miss the point:

I came to you in weakness …
so that your faith might rest
not on human wisdom

but on the power of God.


Jesus tells his disciples to let that power of God shine in them by virtue of their good deeds — the very same deeds Isaiah recommends to his listeners:

Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.


In sum, our readings caution us that failures in charity and mercy wound us, both as individuals and as a community. Meanness kills – not only its object, but its subject as well.

When we remove all meanness from our actions, the Light shines, healing all our wounds.

Music:  Let Your Light Shine – Mike Balhoff and Darryl Ducote

Outrageous Grace

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

February 3, 2020

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, we have two highly dramatic passages. If there were an Oscar category for “Best Biblical Drama”, these stories would definitely be nominees!

In our ongoing “David Saga”, the troubled king flees Jerusalem because his own son Absalom is plotting to overthrow him. David, at this point in time, is humbled and not a little wearied by the theatrics of his life. His sins continue to haunt him and wreak a recompense. 


dirt thrower
Shimei curses David by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld

In today’s passage, we meet Shimei who has his own little miniseries going on in the Bible. Shimei is part of Saul’s family and holds David responsible for Saul’s demise. When meeting David in this passage, Shimei dangerously, and we might say stupidly, sets on him, throwing dirt and stones at the King. David prevents the troops from responding to the wildly outraged man. David even suggests that God may be trying to teach David something in the attack.


In our Gospel, we meet another wildly outraged man. This one is tormented by his inner demons, causing him also to put himself in dangerous situations. Jesus names this man’s tormentor and casts it out, giving the man control of himself again.


Have you ever been so offended, humiliated or injured that you felt outrage for yourself or another? Such fury chains us, making rationality and reconciliation close to impossible. Sometimes, it renders us impotent to name and address the deep source of our indignation. Instead, we lash out with stones of anger and hate – throwing the dirt of condemnation rather than seeking inner balance and healing.

dementor

Most of us have encountered large or small “dementors” in our life. (Thanks for the term AND the image, Harry Potter) 

 


But when I think of those who have endured unbelievable degrees of torment, I am amazed at their stories of faith and resolution: Anne Frank, Victor Frankel, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman …. Jesus Christ. How did they come through it whole and blessed?


 

Mk5_1_20demoniac

Maybe the possessed man in Mark’s Gospel was just lucky that day to run into Jesus. Or maybe he sought out Christ, trying to find stability in the midst of his derangement.

When we face our own imbalances can we stay still long enough to ask, as David did, “What is God teaching me in this. How can this lead me closer to God?” If we could, might we not be surprised to see our demons named, cast into the greater sea of God’s eternal wisdom, peace and love?

Music: Amazing Grace – Sean Clive

The Promise of Wholeness

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, Isaiah – in glorious prophecy – promises God’s People better times.

hope

Oh my, don’t we all long for the fulfillment of that promise! Sometimes, I can’t even watch the news anymore because the world is in such seemingly irreversible pain!


Perhaps we can use our prayer within these readings today to call on God for the healing they promise.

It is a healing that requires our cooperation. Isaiah says that we must name our pain to God – for ourselves and for all who suffer in our world:

The Lord will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.

Is30_21 Walk

The prophet says that this crying out will change us. We will see the Lord with us in our suffering. God will lead us through that suffering by our acts of faith, hope, love, justice and mercy:

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or to the left.


 

Christ_Healing_the_Mother_of_Simon_Peter’s_Wife_by_John_Bridges
Healing Peter’s mother-in-law by John Bridges, 19th century

Our Gospel tells us that we are called to be Christ’s disciples, and that disciples are healers. By letting our lives become sources of healing in the world, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled for our time.

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”

How we do these wondrous deeds in the world is an ongoing revelation. When I was very young, I took the proclamation quite literally. I soon lost confidence that I would ever really “cure” someone of anything!

Life has blessed me with the realization that there are many degrees of healing. There  many ways in which living people are caught in deadly lives. There are all kinds of “lepers ” in our society, rendered so by the prejudices of others. Certainly, many of us carry all sorts of crippling demons.

Acknowledging the pain in ourselves and others, and trusting that God wants us to be healed and whole, is the work of true discipleship. Let’s keep our eyes on Isaiah’s promise to give us a generous, merciful courage for our call! Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus as he shows us the way.

Music: (Can you take a little hint of “country” this morning?)

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus – written by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961) and sung here by Alan Jackson, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records.

Of Course, I Want To!

Friday, January 11, 2019

Click here for readings

Today, in Mercy, John and Jesus continue to teach us.

lk5_12 of course
Greek rendering of phrase “Of course I do!”

But, as much as I love John’s letters, there are a few places where his needle gets a little stuck (a metaphor that might be lost on my younger readers?). This passage is one of them.

What I think John wants to get across to us is this: we are invited to eternal life through Baptism, the Paschal-Eucharistic Mystery, and through the Holy Spirit. This is the truth of Jesus Christ which we embrace by faith.

In our Gospel, Jesus shows us how to live that faithful life – through loving, generous service.

A pitiable leper interrupts Jesus on his journey to ask for help. People like this man were scorned, feared, and isolated. Their leprosy impoverished them, making them annoying beggars. Their cries usually met with indifference at best and banishment at worst.

But when this leper poses his proposal to Jesus – “If you want to, you can heal me.” — Jesus gives the spontaneous answer of a true, merciful heart: “Of course I want to!”

There is no annoyance, no suggestion that other concerns are more important. There is just the confirmation that – Yes- this is the purpose of my life: to heal, love, show mercy toward whatever suffering is in my power to touch. There is just the clear message that “You, too, poor broken leper, are Beloved of God.”

What an example and call Jesus gives us today! We are commissioned to continue this merciful touch of Christ along the path of our own lives. When circumstances offer us the opportunity to be Mercy for another, may we too respond with enthusiasm, “Of course I want to!” May we have the eyes to see through any “leprosy” to find the Beloved of God.

Music: Compassion Hymn – Kristyn and Keith Getty

What Do You Want Me To Do for You?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102818.cfm

Today, in Mercy, our Gospel presents the blind man, Bartimeus. He is an otherwise unknown character in scripture. Yet this short passage suggests so much about him.

Mk 10_51 Bartimeus

It is stated that he was the son of Timeus, apparently someone of note in the community – otherwise, why mention his name? And yet this notable man’s blind son is left to begging on the side of the road. Had disability driven father and son apart? Was Dad unable to accept a son with a physical challenge?

The passage also reveals that Bartimeus knew about Jesus. Perhaps while begging in the public square, he talked and listened. He daydreamed about what he planned to do if he should ever have a chance to meet Jesus!

His cronies in the marketplace were not very supportive. They told him to shut up, even as he pathetically cried for Jesus’s mercy. Still, Bartimues persisted and Jesus heard him.

When he comes to Jesus, Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” It has always struck me as a strange question. The man is obviously blind, stumbling through the crowd on some disciple’s arm. Why did Jesus bother to ask what Bartimeus wanted?

This might be the lesson hidden in this Gospel. We need to name and claim our needs before God can reach through and transform them. If we don’t even know we’re “blind”, how can we know we’re cured? If we don’t present our needs to God, how can we believe that it is God Who has healed us?

The freshly cured Bartimeus, eyes wide open in grace, now follows along the path with Jesus. All the “shut-uppers” are silenced. Perhaps, Timeus weeps off in a doorway to see the power of his son’s faith and Jesus’s love.

How might our lives be changed if we had that kind of faith… that kind of love?

Music: Don’t Pass Me By – Fred Hammond (lyrics below)

There was a blind man on the road side, and he heard a commotion
It was Jesus passing by with a crowd and it stirred his emotions
He’d been displaced his whole life, should he even try

Don’t bother Jesus (they say you have nothing)
You have nothing to offer (stay in your place)
Right then he knew(he had to choose)
He had nothing to lose

So he cried Jesus (Jesus), I need you,  please don’t pass me by
He cried out Jesus, I’m not ashamed(to tell you) I need you in my life
(I need you in my life)

I’m not much different from that man, and this is the honest truth
Could this sinful one, with this messed up life, could I ever serve you
people and things clutter my mind, should I even try

Don’t bother Jesus (they say you have nothing)
You have nothing to offer (stay in your place)
Right then he knew (he had to choose)
He had nothing to lose

So I cry Jesus(Jesus), I need you
Please don’t pass me by
I’m crying out Jesus, I’m not ashamed to tell you I need you in my life

As the deer (as the deer panted)
Thirsty for the water yeah(thirsty for the water)
My soul desires and longs to be(to be with you)

Jesus, I need you, please don’t pass me by
I don’t mean to waste your time but I can’t listen to the crowd,
Situations in my life telling me to keep it down
But I need you

I know I’m broken, but you can heal me, Jesus, Jesus I’m calling you
(I might not be worth much)might not be worth much, but I’m still willing
Jesus, Jesus, I’m calling you
Songwriters: Fred Hammond / Kim Rutherford / Tommie Walker