November, 25 (O.S., November 12), 2018: 26th Sunday after Pentecost.St. John the Merciful, patriarch of Alexandria (620); Ven. Nilus the Faster of Sinai (451); Prophet Ahijah (Achias) (960 B.C.).
Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Mission, Madison, WI
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Here’s the thing about being merciful; it’s often inconvenient.
Saying this isn’t cynical. Mercy to be merciful means meeting the actual needs of the person. What can make this inconvenient is that other people rarely have problems according to my timetable.
All of this is to say, that mercy to be merciful requires a real death to self.
This death reflects the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus doesn’t impose Himself on us; He respected our freedom going so far as to accept our will for Him even though it cost Him His life.
The call to be merciful is nothing more or less than a call to participate personally in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Acts of mercy are, in other words, part of how each of us picks up our cross and follows Jesus as His disciples and witnesses.
It is important to keep in mind the sacrificial nature of mercy because mercy can take many forms. This means that how you practice mercy and how I practice mercy don’t necessarily resemble each other.
Look at the Samaritan in today’s Gospel.
In his situation, mercy meant pausing in his travels, binding up the wounds of a stranger, and carrying him to an inn where he could care for him.
This doesn’t mean, as Jesus makes clear, that caring for the stranger means the Samaritan must ignore the business that put him on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho; mercy for the stranger doesn’t mean the Samaritan must neglect his own affairs. Because he had to complete his travels, the Samaritan pays the innkeeper to care for the stranger until he returns.
Even then in this one instance, mercy takes different forms. The Samaritan cares for the stranger personally. He also hires a caregiver when the stranger’s needs were greater than the Samaritan’s abilities (if not his resources). Both, however, are acts of mercy. Both are sacrificial.
Realizing that mercy takes many forms highlights the failure of the priest and the Levite. They didn’t necessarily have to do all that the Samaritan would do. But as Jesus makes clear, they had an obligation to alleviate–if only in small measure–the stranger’s suffering.
Not only did the priest and the Leviate make the perfect the enemy of the good, they make the good the enemy of the good enough. They prefer to do nothing than to do even a little.
Unlike the Samaritan, the priest and the Levite were important men in the Jewish community. No doubt, their indifference to the needs of a stranger reflected this fact. They had things–important things I’m sure–to do.
This is the other reason why being merciful is so often inconvenient.
Putting my neighbor’s needs first means putting on hold if only temporarily, my own projects and plans. While I might be willing to do this if the need is great enough, mercy is so much harder when the need is minor or my ability to do good is small.
Given how little I can usually do, given how small the sacrifice required and so how little the reward or sense of satisfaction, to be truly merciful requires a humility I often lack. How much easier it would have been for the priest or the Levite to make a sacrifice which even if it wasn’t great in the eyes of others, would have at least been great in their own eyes.
But it is precisely these small acts of mercy that, turning now to the epistle, that exposes the darkness of sin. It is by our humble good deeds, our small, seemingly inconsequential acts of mercy, that we reveal the vanity of the “unfruitful works of darkness” as St Paul describes this world’s addiction to its own plans and project.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! The question is this: Am I, are you, are we, willing to be faithful stewards and witnesses of God’s mercy when doing so seems foolish, or even pointless, in the eyes of the world?
Are we, in other words, willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus as His disciples even in those moments when there is no reward or when our ability to do good or alleviate human suffering is minimal?
Are we, in other words, willing to be neighbor to others as Jesus is neighbor to us?