Sunday, October 28, 2012

Offensive Mercy

Offensive Mercy is being reposted for Monday's Gospel reading:
Gospel Reading for Monday, October 29th
Gospel Luke 13:10-17   

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, "Woman, you are set free of your infirmity." He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.  

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, "There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day." The Lord said to him in reply, "Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?" When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.

Offensive Mercy:

Some people treat animals better than their own kind. Sin has a way of making certain people loathe their own country, their own religion and even their own species. Only people are capable of hating themselves in this fashion.

The Pharisees in the first century professed to have love for their nation of Israel and Judaism, their own religion. But by putting so much emphasis on their own religious laws, many of them man-made, they lost sight of the dignity of the human person. Quite often, enforcing such laws came at the expense of the lowly. Our Lord reminded the religious elders of his day that religion and its laws were made for man and not the other way around. There can be a temptation with the leaders of any institution- especially the Church or the State -to view their subjects as their own servants. Hence, the high office they assume ends up being used as an instrument of power instead of an opportunity to serve. Today, this mentality among the upper echelon is referred to as the "ruling class" or the "establishment."

The impressive thing to consider with the Gospel passage is that Jesus healed "a woman...who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit." In doing so, he had to anticipate the opposition and hostility of the Pharisees that would inevitably result. It would be just one more excuse for the enemies of our Lord to find fault with him. With each humiliation and insult, the religious elders would eventually make their case to Pilate that Jesus of Nazareth had to go! But our Lord healed the woman anyways! He pitied this lowly daughter of Abraham and lifted her up. And to be sure, she was never the same. What gratitude this infirmed and oppressed woman would have for Jesus! And what admiration she would have for his courage to defy some man-made rule that forbade her healing on the Sabbath; and to top it off, to take the heat by the Pharisees because of it.

Jesus shows that doing an act of mercy- even when the benefits are obvious -will, on occasion, anger important people. When conformity to the establishment norms are not forthcoming, there might be hell to pay by those in authority! Nevertheless, our Lord illustrates that there is a difference between obedience to just laws and conformity to norms which are contrary to God's law. As to the latter, every pope who has written on the subject bids the Christian to practice non-conformity; even if it comes at a high price.

No one knows this better than St. Mary MacKillop who was canonized in 2010. She is "Australia's first native saint and co-founder of its first congregation of women religious. She also was briefly excommunicated." "At the urging of some clergy," The Compass Newspaper reports, "Bishop Sheil excommunicated Mary and dispensed 47 sisters from their vows. The priests were annoyed both by the sisters' independence and their allegation of child abuse by Fr. Patrick Keating, who was sent back to Ireland." The excommunication lasted five months. However, upon Bishop Sheil's deathbed, he lifted the excommunication. Saint Mary MacKillop did not conform to the silence that was expected of her. An injustice was being done and as a consequence she was inspired to do something about it. Like our Lord, she did just that and paid the price. Indeed, her merciful act in protecting children from abuse was offensive to some. But she was vindicated and is now celebrated by the Church Universal as a hero.