With the end of the Liturgical Year just two Sundays away, on the Feast of Christ the King, I am going to use the First Reading from Kings and the Gospel as a springboard of preparation for something coming our way this Advent. First, these two beautiful readings. Let’s recount…
Both are stories of widows who, by the narrative, have next to nothing – so little in fact, in the first reading the widow tells Elijah she has just enough to “prepare something for [herself] and [her] son; when [they] have eaten it, [they] shall die” – presumably by starvation because they will have nothing left. What little she has, however, she shares first with Elijah. In the gospel, Jesus is watching how people were making their contributions at the temple: the rich were leaving large amounts but the widow gave only pennies. Jesus tells the disciples however that because the rich were giving from their surplus and the widow from her poverty – hers, by comparison, was the greater offering – because it was “all she had, her whole livelihood.” If ever there was a Sunday to preach on the giving of time, talent or money this surely would be it. But I don’t want to talk about any of those things. I want us to focus on giving….and receiving….something of even greater importance: MERCY.
This past March, Pope Francis declared the upcoming year to be a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin in Advent on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and last until the end of the next liturgical year on the next Feast of Christ the King…So that it doesn’t become just another churchy buzz word or one more thing for the believer “bucket list” – you know…that list we all have of those really great biblical or faith-based ideals we hope to get to one day before we die – I want to look at it so we might prepare ourselves for what could be the most life-changing thing for us personally and our world at large. To start I would like to present a graphic illustration I call the Flower of GRACE:
- First, a seed…..plants seed in pot with soil
- the seed is MERCY: without it the stem and the flower cannot grow. It is the beginning.
- Next something immerges….puts stem in pot
- the stem is FORGIVENESS: the seed (Mercy) allows for forgiveness to occur.
- Finally, the “fruit”….places flower on top of stem
- the flower is RECONCILIATION: the process which restores/heals relationship and makes it possible for more seeds to be spread.
So keeping this “illustration” in mind, now let’s explore….
Some things immediately came to mind:
- this whole “Flower” thing isn’t about separate things but a process involving all the parts working together. You can’t have a flower without a stem; neither without the seed.
- While the flower is what usually captures our attention, you know when you think of all the parts of the process, the SEED is, without question, the most important part. It is a very, very complicated thing in a very, very simple package. Wrapped up inside is everything needed to create flower after flower, tree after tree, human after human.
- The seed seems to be the critical piece. The seed is MERCY in our Flower of Grace and I don’t know about you but I don’t think of MERCY all that often (well maybe as a student just prior to a test – “Lord, pleeeeasssee, be Merciful…on me…a sinner”.
However, once I did begin to think about this thing called Mercy, my eyes were quickly opened and I didn’t even have to leave Mass:
- we begin every Mass asking God for His mercy:
- Lord, Have Mercy; Christ, Have Mercy; Lord, Have Mercy – it is the seed leading to forgiveness that reconciles us at the outset so we can even approach this altar.
- Probably no other place in scripture about God’s mercy then when we sing the Psalm:
- Ps 25 “Remember Your Mercy”
- Ps 51 “Have Mercy Lord”
- Ps 103 “The Lord is Kind and Merciful”
- Ps 130 “With the Lord there Is Mercy”
- Of course, Ps 33 we sang today: “Let Your Mercy Be On Us”
- Of the hundreds of times MERCY is mentioned in scripture, half are in the psalms.
Speaking of Scripture… in the Old Testament, at least on FOUR separate occasions, we hear that God desires “MERCY, not sacrifice.” A sentiment that is repeated by Jesus himself in Matthews’ gospel…twice…with an addition…He tells us…”Go and learn what that means…” He then chastises the leaders that while learning all the little things of the LAW of God they have neglected the weightier, more important things…like MERCY.
It’s an important thing to God – this seed call MERCY – for without it FORGIVENESS and RECONCILIATION can never really sprout and blossom. It is a PROCESS of planting the seed called MERCY before any flower can be realized.
I have realized in my brief little foray into this thing called MERCY in preparation for this homily that I am even ill-prepared for the Year of Mercy Pope Francis is asking me to engage in. Thank God it is a year-long process. I don’t think I am alone. I believe one of the most fundamental reasons our world is in the shape it is in is because few of us really understand this thing called MERCY. After all don’t we usually think of MERCY as something only for the weak? Look at our evidence: aren’t the ones that do understand it – aren’t they viewed in a way as weak..Ghandi (the pacifist), Mother Teresa (the frail), Martin Luther King, Jr. (American founder of the non-violent movement), Saint John Paul II and his co-canonization partner, St. John XXIII (called the gentle Pope) and many of the saints? BUT, aren’t they the ones also we hold in our highest regard? Isn’t one of the prerequisites of even being one of these saints the witness of MERCY? We even think them weak, but we hold them up. We look to emulate their example – because we knew in our heart of hearts, they got it! They understood without MERCY, FORGIVENESS and RECONCILIATION are IMPOSSIBLE! And without forgiveness and reconciliation we would have a world, a community, a family, a relationship…even ourselves – that are broken. For MERCY is not only the seed of forgiveness and reconciliation but is in fact the seed which brings healing, recovery, freedom, wholeness, grace… so important is this SEED called MERCY.
We have an opportunity coming up. An opportunity to explore this SEED called MERCY and to bring it into being and to bear within ourselves, our workplace, our campus, our world. We have the opportunity to allow MERCY to change us and the world in which we live. To allow MERCY to be the seed that brings forgiveness and reconciliation where it is so desperately needed. And it first has to be planted here…within our heart. We are the ones called to be like the widows of today’s Word. We may not think we even have much to offer but in truth we are being called upon to give it all anyway – “to give all we have” – to offer up our hearts to the Lord so that in return God may plant within us His seed of MERCY that will grow into the flower of Grace bringing forgiveness and reconciliation to our hurting world.
In our first reading from Kings we are told that the widow who gave all that she had received in return all that she needed. The Year of Mercy is our opportunity to do the same – to give ourselves over to it – to give all that we have and in turn receive truly all that we need.
MERCY – it is one heck of a seed that yields one heck of a flower.
Lord, let your mercy be on us, and in us, as we place our trust in you.