The Moving Insight of Mercy
“But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Lk. 10:33)
May it be given to me to speak to you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN
At lunch the other day, we began a foray – as you do – into the call story of one of our monastery week guests. They explained to Fr George and me something of their journey to faith by way of a friend’s encouragement to read philosophy – particularly the work of the Canadian Jesuit, Bernard Lonergan. Presumably, our visiting inquirer into the religious life was convinced – however unexpectedly – by Lonergan’s proposal of “self-appropriation” as the cornerstone of all methodological enquiry: that is to say as our basis for ideas and ways of thinking.
It is in the harvest-field of ourselves – to paraphrase another Jesuit, Gerard Hughes – where we find the entire basis of our epistemology. As Hughes puts it somewhat more poetically, we alone – you and I that is – are the field in which the kingdom-treasure is hidden.
In more reductionist terms we might therefore say with all good party-goers, “You put your whole self in”, in order to get “your whole self out”, and you do that in order that you might go beyond that self to accede to full insight into all things; full insight whilst remaining completely yourself, to become more fully that self: changed, restored. A Kingdom field if you like, ploughed up, turned over to reveal the treasure hidden so closely beneath the surface. It seems the writers of Deuteronomy possess a similar degree of that insight in their message to us today.
On the one hand, this simplifies Lonergan’s analysis. (Only a charlatan would dare to bring in the hokey-cokey at such a point)…! And yet, on the other hand, what is written in that lore… we read there that you dig in with your preconceptions and hang-ups… you embrace the jagged awkwardness of this dance with the whole self – and “you turn around”. Of course you do – that is what it’s all about – forasmuch as we don’t expect it. Forasmuch as it shakes us up this divine dance; forasmuch of a hokey Cokey as it usually is for most of us to join in and to find our part, and answer the call that never gives up.
“What do I do now”? mused our enquirer after his epiphany with Lonergan. “I have seen the Lord! “I have been shown.” “Do I tell somebody that I believe this? Do I say a prayer”?
Well, we never found out exactly what their immediate response was, save that they now find themselves in ostensibly Christian employment and have pitched up here. They are a different person, a moved person, having come to a new and fuller insight of themselves. They dared to move in – to be turned over – to be turned around. – to join the dance. That’s what it’s all about. And so here they are. And not only they, but we ourselves. We ransomed worshippers, renewed to a better enslavement – a new covenant of grace and a fresh insight through the Spirit of loving abundance – even of decadence in Christ Jesus – a spirit who ever gives the life of Godself that we may grow up in all ways possible toward the mystery of the ever near Word of love, the Lord of the dance.
In a sense, like the lawyer’s question in today’s gospel, this guest’s immediate response – their test questions if you will – are dissolved by the infinitely generative response of the Samaritan traveller in the gospel. The despised Samaritan has more in common with Jesus’ way than any priest or Levite. It is this foreign traveller who moves the mercies of God to his estranged Jewish brother. He looks at him; he crosses the road, he lends God’s mighty strength in gifts of bandages and wine vinegar. He lavishes renewed hope, restores faith and loves on that treacherous road to Jericho in the power whose name is mercy; whose nature is Christ’s; whose ever near word is speaking to us with whispers of love this morning, that we too might stop and search, and see and cross over the roads of our fearfulness. That we too might learn to walk in love so extravagantly that it’s infectious and unstoppable.
What’s more important for our visitor is that that there has been a response in the first place; that they are here, seeking to be the answer to their own question and themselves the insight into their own search for truth in that bright field of their humanity. “The Word is very near you”, says Jesus through the Deuteronomist. And similarly in the words of the prophet the prophet Micah, “He has told us mortals what is good.” Not sheep and oil and goats as the bases of sacrifice, but the mean altar of the heart itself, gratuitously offered, broken into pieces – puny and contrite and enough to generate a spark of sacred, tangible, transformative love. The kindling sacrifice characterised by that insightful mercy that sets souls and worlds ablaze with his refining fire.
Jesus does indeed pass the lawyer’s misappropriated test – once he has moved his wrong question out of the way in order finally to reorient him in the transformative ways of mercy – that divine characteristic borne of the fruit of love in the power of a new heart and the fire of a new spirit toward which our discipleship needs more and more to tend as we too accede to the heavenly pathways of insight.
As we move together on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho this morning with its dangers and woes and unexpected insights, how do we read Torah as we travel? Is it with the lawyer’s binary of right and wrong and wanting still that bit more to self-justify, or is it with the enquirer’s – the Samaritan’s – open eyes to come alongside, to see, to appropriate ourselves – heart and soul on the way of mercy – until we become with them a new creation; a perpetually generative creation offering from its abundance, whose nature and whose name is love and whose fire is the lamplight of the Lamb.
And what do we do now? What is required of you and of me? Justice, mercy and humble walking? Jesus says to us each, “Go and do likewise, and you will live.”
God grant that I have spoken in his name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.