Today, in Mercy, James actually made me chuckle out loud! In today’s celebrated passage about faith and works, James – ever direct and uncompromising – really takes it home. Get this verse:
Do you want proof, you ignoramus,
that faith without works is useless?
OK, James! Tell us what you really think!😂
Well, here’s what he really thinks:
For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
In our Gospel, Jesus says that living a life of good works is hard. He did it through the Cross and says we must follow his example:
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.
The Gospel Jesus is talking about, and the “works” James refers to, are summarized like this:
Corporal Works of Mercy
feed the hungry.
give water to the thirsty.
clothe the naked.
shelter the homeless.
visit the sick.
visit the imprisoned, ransom the captive.
bury the dead.
Spiritual Works of Mercy
instruct the ignorant.
counsel the doubtful.
admonish the sinners.
bear patiently those who wrong us.
comfort the afflicted.
pray for the living and the dead.
If we live by these, we will find the Cross – but we will also find the Crown.
Music: Lose My Soul – TobyMac, a multi-award winning Christian hip-hop singer. The music is a departure for me, but I thought the song was really good (maybe of use to some of my readers who are teachers.) I hope you agree.
Today, in Mercy, Samuel anoints Saul King of Israel.
Then, from a flask he had with him, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head; he also kissed him, saying: “The LORD anoints you commander over his heritage. You are to govern the LORD’s people Israel, and to save them from the grasp of their enemies.
Throughout Scripture, the act of anointing signifies being blessed, commissioned by grace. The sacred oil heals and strengthens the anointed to do the work of God.
We share in the grace of anointing through the sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick. We may not think about the power these rituals give us to live our lives in the pattern of Christ. But it is an amazing power which creates saints out of ordinary human beings like you and me!
In a less formal way, we can anoint one another by our acts of generosity, honesty, justice and love. Think of the woman who anointed Jesus with nard from her alabaster jar. How that act strengthened him for the suffering he had to face!
There are so many chaffed and sore places in our world awaiting the oil of mercy!
We can also “anoint” our own life by gratefully remembering God’s presence in our lives: the blessings we have received, the challenges we have gracefully met, the love we have both given and received – all that strengthened us to do the work of God over our lifetime.
Today, in Mercy, the voice of the Lord, in both Leviticus and Matthew, makes one thing abundantly clear: God lives in the “least ones”, and this is where we must love and serve God.
In our first reading, God tells the people to be holy – not by offering God sacrifice and praise, but like this:
Don’t make an empty vow.
Don’t hurt those already hurting.
Don’t make false judgments.
Don’t be prejudiced.
Don’t do nasty gossip.
Don’t ignore your neighbor’s need.
Don’t hate, take revenge on, or begrudge others.
In other words,
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
We are so accustomed to this passage that we may miss how startling it is! God asks nothing of us for himself! God asks only that we love God through our neighbor.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reiterates this command in the form of positive actions, adding how we will be judged by it. Jesus says:
Feed the hungry.
Hydrate the thirsty.
Welcome the stranger.
Clothe the naked.
Care for the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
We are called to these works of mercy on many levels. Certainly the call is first to the physically suffering – the homeless, the refugee, the uncared for, the abused.
But we also know from our own experience that there are all kinds of hungers and thirsts in the human heart. There is a loneliness that persists even in a crowd. There is naked fear, depression and isolation even among those otherwise warmly dressed. There are sicknesses that come from selfishness and others that come from abandonment. There are prisons without bars.
We do not have to look far to find the “least ones” whom God wishes us to love and serve.
We do not have to look far to find God. We just have to look deep.
Music: The Circle of Mercy – Jeannette Goglia, RSM