In the midst of suffering, we need more mercy.
A Reflection for the Fifteenth Monday in Ordinary Time
[C]ease doing evil; learn to do good.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed or taken aback by today’s readings. Isaiah’s message in the first reading leaves me feeling scolded; we are told what God does not want from us. And while I had no plans to drop a whole burnt ram on the steps of my parish, I feel properly chastised by the nod to the hypocrisy that has plagued faith communities for ages. And I hear and acknowledge the seemingly straightforward and yet endlessly complex instruction on how to fix this hypocrisy: cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
So simple. And yet, here we are, in a world with real evil, with injustice, with many neglected vulnerable people.
The answer in all of these readings (and in our lives today) is, as it always is in the midst of uncertain times, more mercy.
The Gospel is equally unsettling. Following Christ, we are told, involves families pitted against each other, family members left behind; talk of properly receiving prophets and righteous men. And then, again, a simple step, this one seemingly even more simple: offering “a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink.” And in our daily lives this might be a literal cup of water to someone in need; sometimes a prayer; always the real recognition of the presence of Christ in the person in front of us.
The answer in all of these readings (and in our lives today) is, as it always is in the midst of uncertain times, more mercy. Welcome all disciples; build up a life of love doing good, seeking justice, righting wrongs, defending the vulnerable. Start small. Building the sort of faith and the type of community that allows for a change in direction, that allows us to acknowledge where we have gone wrong, and to start anew. We need the type of faith that allows us to let go of the “worthless offerings” to which we have been clinging and to see the real needs of the world before us and to offer a faith and a community that puts all of us on the path to eternal life and “make justice [our] aim.”