Monday, February 04, 2008

Monday in the 4th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
Getting Your Hands Dirty

Readings: 2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13; Psalm 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Mark 5:1-20

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall have mercy shown them. This is one of the Beatitudes that we heard proclaimed at Mass yesterday. It is one of the eight (or nine, depending on how you count them) crucially important statements of Jesus that point us the way into the Kingdom of Heaven. But what, we may wonder, does it mean to be merciful? What does it look like when mercy is shown to others? Both our readings today help us to deepen our meditation on these questions.

In the first reading, David demonstrates for us one dimension of mercy. Consider his situation. Although he is fighting a rebellion led by his own son, David is still ruler of the kingdom. And although he is fleeing his own capital city, we’re told that all the soldiers, including the royal guard, were on David’s right and on his left. Thus when Shimei starts throwing stones and hurling insults and curses at him, David could very easily have had him killed without a second thought. Instead, David spares him. We may wonder why. Perhaps it was David’s sorrow at the painful treachery of his son. Perhaps it was his appreciation of the partial truth in Shimei’s accusations. It also seems clear that David’s reaction had something to do with his relationship with God: the Lord has told him (to curse)… Whatever the exact reason, David models for us the mercy that endures insult without retaliation, the mercy which lets people alone.

But this far from exhausts the mystery of mercy. Jesus shows us something more. Just as Shimei ambushes David in the first reading, so does the demoniac accost Jesus in the gospel. And yet, not only does Jesus not punish him for his rude intrusion, but he actually frees him from his enslavement to the legion of unclean spirits that have been forcing him to constantly do harm to himself and to live among the dead. In so doing, Jesus goes beyond the mercy shown by David, the mercy that only lets people alone. Instead, what Jesus models for us is the mercy that gets involved. It is a mercy is not afraid to get its hands dirty, that is willing to somehow enter into the suffering of the other. It is a mercy that endures not just the discomfort of the demoniac’s presence, but also the rejection that results from his healing: seized with fear, the townsfolk began to beg Jesus to leave their district. And it is through this mercy that the demoniac is led out from the isolation of the tombs and back into the embrace of his community: go home to your family… Freed from spiritual bondage, the once possessed man is now filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to bear witness to the goodness of God: he went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him…

Even more importantly, the demoniac’s story points to what Jesus does for all of us. It recalls the mercy that God has shown us in Christ, the mercy that moves God to enter into our human reality, to become one like us, even to the extent of suffering, dying, and rising on the third day. The demoniac’s story reminds us that we have all benefited from this mercy, this divine willingness to get its hands dirty. And, more likely than not, we will also quite easily recall instances in our respective histories when this same mercy has been shown to us also through others who have been willing to accompany us in our struggles.

Recalling these memories of mercy, will we not, in our turn, find ourselves moved to show mercy to others, to get involved in some way in their situations, even at some cost to ourselves?

How are we being invited to be merciful to others today?

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