Movements & Moments of Mercy

Kent Beduhn

Kent BeduhnNovember 20, 2011

1.     Justice Owned:  Ezekiel’s Call to Shepherd with Justice

Ezekiel 34:11-16

New International Version (NIV)

 11“‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

Lord Says: 

“I, myself, will…

-search

-look after them

-as shepherd with scattered flock, I will look after them

-rescue them from all places where scattered

            -on day of clouds & darkness

-bring them out from all the nations & gather them from countries

            -I will bring them into their own land

-pasture them on the mountains of Israel

            -in the ravines and all the settlements in the land

-tend them in good pasture

            -mountain heights will be their grazing land

            -they will lie down in good grazing land and they will feed on rich pasture

-search for the lost and

-bring back the strays

-bind up the injured and strengthen the weak,

-but the sleek and the strong I will destroy.

-Shepherd the flock with justice.

-  Mentor & friend, David Powell, once set a minimum standard for professional ethical behavior:  “If you’re willing to have it published on the front page of the Washington Post or New York Times, then go ahead and do it.”

Can we be for one another what God is to us?  In some feeble but important way, this is what we aspire to when we execute justice in God’s name. 

            -The Shepherd’s merciful Justice search & looking after the sheep that Ezekiel speaks of God doing for us is what, in turn, we may do for others, in order to be part of the restoration and renewal justice completes.

            -The Shepherd’s merciful Justice strives to rescue sheep from all the places to which they’ve been scattered, “on a day of clouds and darkness;” THIS is the work of an engaged & committed God.  Is it our work of mercy?

            -The Shepherd’s merciful Justice reaches out, “bringing out” the sheep from “their own nations and gathering” them in to “their own land;” THIS is the work of a unifying & community-building God.  Is it our work of mercy?

            -The Shepherd’s merciful Justice provides for the sheep, “pasturing them on the mountain heights of Israel;” THIS tending of the Sovereign Lord is the work of a nurturing and attentive God.  Is it our work of mercy?

There is radical ownership of the complicated relationship of the shepherd and the tended sheep.  The God of Justice is one who, in God’s own Self, searches out the lost, returns with the strays, strengthens the weak.  Even so, the “sleek and the strong I will destroy.”  That is also what it means to “shepherd the flock with justice.”  Unfortunately, many of us are likely identified as the “sleek & strong,” who in justice face our judgment & destruction.  It may be the story of a lifetime of acts of mercy to reconcile our need for the Shepherd’s merciful Justice with our unearned privilege.  This is certainly what I received in Jennifer’s expression last Sunday of our need to match our environmental consciousness and focused action with the desperate needs for the shared survival of our planet & human family.  Can we justly consider action to save and conserve resources part of the Shepherd’s merciful Justice .  We belong to a culture, again, are “the sleek & the strong” who face destruction.  Perhaps that’s the ultimate irony of the path of injustice: those who do NOT DO justice are destroyed by their unwillingness or incapacity to DO justice.  It is justice like the merciless verdict the addict or alcoholic, confronted with the body’s rebellion against the ravages of illness too long denied.  It is the merciless rage of the child abuser, confronted by a judge to serve jail time with other child offenders, who is left to face the violence of other offenders who have themselves been ruthlessly violated as children.  The offender’s own violence is mirrored back to him.   Culturally, that’s who we are, facing the emptiness and futility of our own gluttony, addiction and justifying the continued violence of mindless consumption, while at the same moment confronted with their shared consequences.  That’s the Shepherd’s Merciful Justice.

Listen again:  “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” 

Such is the wisdom Ezekiel brings to God’s justice and our own efforts at movements & moments of mercy .

How will we “shepherd the flock with justice?”  This may be the only way to shepherd with justice: paying attention to the edge of the flock, looking for the missing, the visiting the sick & the imprisoned, nurturing the hungry and thirsty, finding and returning lost... 

2.  Active Love for Jesus in Distressing Disguises

The Blessing

            ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father;

-take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Responses to:

-35For I washungry and you gave me something to eat,

-I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

-I was a stranger and you invited me in,

-36I needed clothes and you clothed me,

-I was sick and you looked after me,

-I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 

Matthew 25:31-46

New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

    31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

   34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

   37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

   40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

   41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

   44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

   45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

   46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Separating out:  as a shepherd

            Righteous “sheep” on the right

            Un-righteous “goats” on the left

           

The Blessing

            ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father;

-take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Responses to:

-35For I washungry and you gave me something to eat,

-I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,

-I was a stranger and you invited me in,

-36I needed clothes and you clothed me,

-I was sick and you looked after me,

-I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

The Question:  When did we see you?

 “The King will reply,

-‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did

-for one of the least of

-these brothers and sisters of mine,

-you did for me.’

To the Left: Cursed

The Question: When did we see you?

-“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,

-whatever you did not do

-for one of the least of these,

you did not do for me.’

-Extreme: jolting makes you think differently about “forced choice” situation, Are my actions like the sheep or the goats?

-What would be an ultimate measure for doing the right thing, living in “right relationship with one another and all of creation”?  Certainly a higher ethical measure than the front of the Wash. Post.  This passage in Matt. 25 raises the bar for ethical behavior to an “end of all time” “end of the world as we know it” scene, where the ultimate measure of right relationship and justice is Love.  Will we treat the very least among us as we would treat Jesus himself?  Will we love the least as we would one who we judge & experience to be the greatest?

            -the Matt scripture raises the bar: occurring just before the start of the account of the Passion Narrative, this final discourse of Jesus with his disciples is intended to be the “Last Word.” It bears the full theological weight of the message of Jesus to the Matthean Community, and perhaps to us.  Just as the last discourse of Jesus before the passion in John (Chap.17), The Matthean Final discourse focuses onlove.  Jesus says, ultimately, it is love that determines whether humans are “good or bad,” in other words it is love of others that best expresses our love of God. 

            -In the Final analysis, the ultimate concern of love must be active:  it’s what you do.  Failure to reach perfect standards of morality or observances will be forgiven, but there is no alternative for active love.

-The Least are those caught by circumstances that reveal vulnerability, loss of basic dignity and strength, lacking nutrition, safety or freedom essential to expression of any other aspect of our humanness.  If we are to trust Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, no other human need—belonging or relationship, any higher goal-oriented action or fulfillment of any sort—is possible unless and until these basic human needs for food, shelter, & safety are met.

The Works of Mercy

The Works of Mercy are an abiding norm for the Catholic Worker Movement. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin lived lives of "active love" built on these precepts.

In Christian tradition they are. . .

The corporal works of mercy:

feeding the hungry

giving drink to the thirsty

clothing the naked

offering hospitality to the homeless

caring for the sick

visiting the imprisoned

burying the dead  

The spiritual works of mercy:

admonishing the sinner

instructing the ignorant

counseling the doubtful

comforting the sorrowful

bearing wrongs patiently

forgiving all injuries

praying for the living and the dead

Some Sources In Scripture

Matthew 25:31-46

Isaiah 58:6-7

Hebrews 13:3

1 John 3:17

Tobit 4:5-11

Matthew 6:2-4

Luke 3:11, 11:41

James 2:15-16

3.      Prayerful, Thanksgiving Presence

Ephesians 1:15-23

New International Version (NIV)

Thanksgiving and Prayer                                                                                                

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a]of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Footnotes:     Ephesians 1:17Or a spirit

What mobilizes these movements toward mercy, these moments and actions of mercy? 

Other movements & moments of mercy are understood and accepted, with gratitude, for all they give to us, what I once heard Don McClanen refer to as “reverse mission.”  You go, with the intent of serving another, and you end up being the ultimate recipient of what you intended to give.  Such is the exponential multiplier effect of prayerful, thankful presence, such as the writer of Ephesians expressed in Paul’s prayer.

The prayer is very specific in the expressions of thanks, hopes,  requests of our just God, for Christ’s manifest life among them:

Asking for:

v  Spirit of revelation & wisdom, to know Jesus as God more intimately

v  That the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened” to know the hope to which Jesus has called you

o   —the riches of his glorious inheritance for his holy people,

o   Jesus’ incomparably great power for us who believe

The Power for Us who Believe:

v  Recognition that this power is the same as the mighty strength God exerted when Jesus was raised from death & seated with God in “heavenly realms”:

o   Far above all rule & power, dominion & authority

o   Far above every name invoked, not only in the present age but in the age to come

o   How God placed everything under Christ’s feet by appointing him head of the church

§  Jesus’ body,

§  The fullness of Jesus who fills everything in every way

1.  15For this reason,        

-ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus

- and your love for all God’s people, 16

-I have not stopped giving thanks for you,

-remembering you in my prayers.

2.  17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father,

-may give you the Spirit[a]of wisdom and revelation,

-so that you may know him better.

3.  18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know

-the hope to which he has called you,

-the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,

-19and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

4.  That power is the same as the mighty strength 20he exerted when

-he raised Christ from the dead

-and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,

-21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion,

-and every name that is invoked,

-not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

5.  22And God placed all things under his feet

-and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,

-23which is his body,

-the fullness of him

-who fills everything in every way.

How are the eyes of our heart enlightened?  This could be a new view of the decision we make daily to open our conscious effort to the merciful shepherding of others with justice.  The heart, in Jewish understanding, shines forth as the seat of higher reasoning and ultimate choice.  Jesus, evoked symbolically as King, in the telling of Matt. 25, “The King of Love my Shepherd Is”—as the old hymn goes— The King exercised the final choice on the Ultimate Day at Time’s End to bless us all freely because we chose to serve—with our just choice—the least and most un-belonging among us.  “When did we see YOU, Lord?”  The answer offered by the “eyes of our enlightened heart” is “When you took these actions of mercy, you engaged your heart in seeing on the face and body and heart of the least among us MY face, MY body and MY heart.” 

And then, What does justice with “the ey’s of our heart enlightened” look like?  To my view, it looks like a triple circle of 12,000 joined hands surrounding the entire 3 block radius of the White House to stop a destructive and unjust pipeline, carrying a death blow to our planet natural capacity for life.  To my heart, it looks like the gathering of individuals from all parts of society in “Occupy” nonviolent movement to advocate the needs of the 99% as against the 1%.  To my heart, enlightened by the hope of this prayer, it reaches toward the possibility of shared meals and homes, visited prisoners and tended sick for those who suffer unjustly in silence, indignity, darkness and obscurity.   And all this could happen not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day, for everyone, because that’s justice with mercy.  Another view of what justice with the eyes of our heart enlightened might be the one, while serving meals here at the PH gives and reaches out to the one in the room who seems most different from all else, least able to have a conversation or give anything of worth to anyone else.  That would be the one to engage, sit with, be with, break bread with, share an hour of intimate prayer and presence with. 

“Power for us who believe” to be motivated, moving and engaging in merciful acts continues to give not only to others but also to us.  “Endless energy, boundless strength!” is The Message’s translation—this may be the energizing effect of our work in mission groups, in classes, in learning and living out the Way of the Gospel, the Way of Mercy pointed to by Jesus, who in the fullness of his Love, becomes “all in all” through our service.

This phrase at the close of the Ephesians passage continues to captivate my imagination and heart these recent two weeks.  As I’ve been working with this passage intimately while preparing for this teaching, a question continues to provoke me:  “What is it about the ‘fullness of Jesus Christ’ that ‘fills all in all.’”  It reminds me of the mystical notion of pan-entheism: that God permeates the essential nature of all creation, infusing it with light, life and purpose.  As we realize God’s light in creation, we take it into our very selves, and then, despite the darkness  which so often surrounds and permeates creation, we experience a difference in God that makes all the difference.   This may be one of the key motivations for doing actions of mercy, for participating in movements and moments of loving presence.  This may be the key to seeing Jesus in the stranger, the sick, the imprisoned, the thirsty and hungry, the homeless and naked. 

The prayer of St. Theresa:

"Christ has no body now but yours.  Yours are the hands with which he looks, compassion on the world.  Yours are the feet with which he seeks to do good."

Happy Thanksgiving to all.  May your giving of thanks and presence to the least among us become an expression of God’s movements and moments of mercy for us as we see the face and body of Jesus in all we meet.  May it be so, I pray.