Monday, November 5, 2012

Mercy - entering into the chaos of others

I chanced upon an interesting interpretation of the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan this week.  The Venerable Bede, who was an English monk and a Doctor of the Church and died in 735AD, preached it.  He posited that it could be preached on two levels:  the first was what Christ accomplishes for the Church, and on the second, what we ought to do for others.  Bede saw the injured man lying helpless as Adam wounded by sin, and he is in exile outside the gates of Eden.  Who the priest and the Levite represent are tradition and the law, which were hitherto unable to do anything for Adam.  But it is then that the Samaritan (Christ) who comes by, nurses Adam’s wounds caused by sin, gives him salve, and even promises to return at a later date to make full payment for all costs incurred so that he can be restored to dwell once more within the eternal joys of the Kingdom. 

Taken in this understanding, the parable is not so much an instruction to us as to how we should be tending to those who are injured and hurt, but far more importantly, about what Christ has done for us.  Every time we imitate Christ in tending to others in a similar way, what we are doing is to make the gospel story retold and real.  We become the real neighbour to those in need.

In our Christian living, there is always an implicit call to live in a very large and selfless way.  There has always been the call to be loving and caring in a way that puts the other person and his/her needs way ahead of our own.  But there is something in our sinful nature to turn a deaf ear to this call, and to procrastinate action.  To live large and selflessly is at the heart of most civic living, where the root of harmony and social cohesion is the ability to think more of the other person in many ways.  But the truth is you don’t have to be a Christian to live this way.  But what makes Christianity so radically different, set apart from all other religions and civil demands is that we not only have a founder of our faith as the model and example of this kind of living, but that this person is God himself who has entered into our world to show just how this should be done. 

At the heart of it all is the willingness of God to enter so fully into our broken humanity to lift us up to heights of divinity.  There was absolutely no necessity for God to do this, and yet, out of pure grace and mercy, he has.  Because of this great act of grace, we have heaven to gain, and our entire lives are given a whole new aim and telos, which is the philosophical term to mean an end or ultimate object.  Of the many definitions of mercy, which I have come across, it was moral theologian James Keenan, a Jesuit priest, who said it so well.  He says that mercy is ‘entering into the chaos’ of someone else.  I think this says it so much better than what I have come across and written about before – “salvation is what turns a messy world into a mercy world.” 

No one would choose chaos of any kind willingly.  What would make anyone enter into the chaos of someone else’s life?  Isn’t the most common thing one can do is to run far from trouble and messiness when one sees it?  In the face of chaos, most choose flight rather than fight.  Yet, this is not what God does with those of us who lead ‘chaotic’ lives in measures big and small.  No, God does not run away, but rather, runs into chaos.  He does this with arms large and compassionate, so that the divine embrace lifts the down trodden, soothes the aching and enlivens the lifeless.  Most importantly, divine mercy offers the wounded soul the balm of forgiveness. 

Christian living in its most radical form is thus far more than just following rules and complying with liturgical norms.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians who seem to have this idea that this is what Christian living is about.  Those are important, but their purpose is so that we have a foundation and a purpose for bringing Christianity into the world, where the call is for us to enter into the chaotic lives of others, extending the kind of compassion, mercy, healing, love and kindness that is the true hallmark of Christian living.  

1 comment:

  1. I do agree wholeheartedly with - ‘’ Most importantly, divine mercy offers the wounded soul the balm of forgiveness......’’ and I would like to emphasize on the word ‘’offer’’ because though ‘’Christian living in its most radical form is thus far more than just following rules and complying with liturgical norms. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Christians who seem to have this idea .........’’ - unfortunately too, there are also many Christians who sail, like the Spanish Armada, into a sufferer’s life, unwaveringly dispensing ‘mercy’ as they deem fit!
    Mercy ‘’drops like a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; is twice blessed- it blesses him that gives and him that receives.....’’ When we enter into people’s chaos we have to be ever mindful that we can only offer our willingness to help – like Simon of Cyrenne – to help to shoulder the weight of the cross and not to take away the cross, for only God can do that. Sometimes, an illness or an unexpected calamity may not be the cross perse but rather it is our struggle to confront and come to terms with it, to accept it and to rise above it – that is the tension, the struggle, the cross. What is called for - is thus an empathy, a gentleness, a loving and supporting presence. It is therefore a privilege to be called to be a ‘’Simon’’ and thus the giver is also blessed.
    God bless you, Father.