At the evening service our Worship Leader reminded us of how, as we have been shown mercy & reconciled to God, we now are called on to act.
Readings for Proper 15 Year A
Take my words and speak through them, take our ears and hear through them, take our hearts & set them on fire with love for you
I sat in front of my computer and read the readings for today over and over. Nothing really inspired me. I couldn’t really grasp what I felt God wanted me to draw out of these words, all telling of different times, different experiences. I wasn’t even sure I exactly liked the Jesus who is portrayed in the Gospel. But as I read, again, the words, I started to see a common thread in the readings, which can be summed up in three words: Mercy – reconciliation – action.
the Joseph portrayed in the Old Testament reading is not a very appealing character – after all, just before this moment, he had had his brother Benjamin arrested on a false charge of stealing, and he had hidden his true identity from his brothers. But once he sees his brothers face to face, he cannot hold himself back: he weeps so loudly that those outside the room can hear him.
Understandably, after what they had done to him, Joseph’s brothers were apprehensive, fearing that he would take his revenge on them, but after he had spoken to them, they understood that he was willing and able to show mercy to them.
As I thought about this, I started to wonder exactly how the dictionary defines mercy; so I looked at various definitions, and the thing that was common to all definitions that I read was that mercy is shown from a position of authority, or of power. The merciful is always the person who has the “upper hand” if you like. And there is also the implication that the mercy that is shown is undeserved, that really the offender merits a different reaction to the mercy that is shown.
This is certainly the case in the story of Joseph. He has gone from a slave to a high ranking official; his brothers, who once held power over him, are now subservient, having come begging for grain, because they are starving, victims of a famine. One could argue too that they certainly don’t deserve any mercy or forgiveness from Joseph, considering how they had behaved towards him. But from his position of authority, Joseph looks on his brothers and feels love, and shows mercy. He recognises that he has been shown mercy in the past, by God’s intervention, and he knows that it is now his place to show mercy to others. As he says: do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
God sent me before you to preserve life. Joseph understands that, in his good fortune, God demands that he shows mercy, and generosity. And in showing that generosity, Joseph, and his brothers are reconciled. And how is that defined? As the restoration between two groups of friendship and harmony. In that word “restoration” there is the sense that something that was good had been broken, and now it was repaired.
Joseph and his brothers had had, perhaps at best an uneasy familial relationship – if you remember, it was Joseph’s position as the favoured son who received a coat from his father, and his dreams which implied he was somehow better than his brothers, that had led to their selling him into slavery. But that relationship was there, and the family bonds had been broken. In our reading today, we see them restored, and in fact made better than before, as Joseph’s generous action of bringing the family to Egypt and providing for them, saves them from starvation and destitution.
Mercy, reconciliation, action.
Coming to the reading from Romans – it may be short, but it’s certainly not easy to understand! But those three words still are there. Paul talks about God’s mercy to all: firstly, to the children of Israel, the Jewish nation, of which he is a proud member. He says firmly that God has not rejected his people – despite their disobedience. This is the crux – the Covenant relationship between God and the Israelites had broken down, but not because Of God’s rejection of them, but rather their rejection of God. And so reconciliation between God and his children is necessary.
But Paul then goes further, extending the bounds of God’s mercy to the Gentiles, to those outside the original circle, if you like. He says that the Gentiles also are included in God’s mercy, and it is because the early Jewish Christians have received mercy, and have been reconciled to their Father God, they should now reveal God’s mercy to others. To those who were not originally in the family, but whom God loves equally.
Mercy, reconciliation, action.
And then we have Jesus, first ignoring a Gentile woman who called on him for help, then calling her names, and then finally, maybe even begrudgingly, listening to her pleas and healing her daughter. There are many different theories about why Jesus behaved as he did – he was first showing undesirable behaviour to prove a point to his disciples, or it was playful banter with the woman, or it was the moment Jesus actually realised that the Incarnation of God on earth was not, in fact, solely for the Jews. I’m not sure, but I think I err to that final explanation. After all, Jesus was fully human, and so that means that, like us, he was continually learning and developing his beliefs and creeds and understanding of the world.
I like to think that, perhaps almost as he says the words” I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he starts to wonder if this was indeed the case. And as the woman quickly retorts “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” he realises that God’s mercy is not doled out, miserly crumb by crumb, but rather like a fountain of love and forgiveness. And in that moment, Jesus too understands that faith and love is all that is needed to bring reconciliation and action. And he shows mercy, by healing the woman’s daughter.
Mercy, reconciliation, action.
And we too are part of that circle of God’s love now. Not a miserly, exclusive circle, but one which keeps growing. God’s circle is one which includes. It includes us. And it includes them. Whoever they might be. God loves us all, no exceptions.
We have been shown mercy; we have been reconciled to God; and now it is on us to act. To let others see that God’s circle is inclusive, not exclusive. To show that same love and mercy that God has shown us. Because we are in positions of power: we, like Joseph, have been given many blessings by God, and from this privileged position, we should be open and willing to show the same mercy and generosity that Joseph showed. But not just to a tiny circle of our family, or a slightly bigger circle of those who think like us, but to the entire world.
As more and more relationships in the world are broken and fractured – be they familial relationships, or those between groups of people, between faiths or between countries – we are asked to be part of God’s inclusivity. There is a worship song you might know, with the words “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” – our love, not our hate, not our indifference, not our exclusivity. Our love.
Within the Convocation, and across the Church, there is a focus on the desperate need of refugees and migrants who are facing so much hate, and danger, and indifference. We read weekly, almost daily, of more people taking risks, losing their lives to reach the relative safety and security of Europe. They may be climate refugees, like Joseph’s brothers, fleeing from famine or flood, from the threat of starvation. They may be people of different countries, people who are “not like us”, like the Gentiles spoken of by Paul. They may people of different faiths, who maybe we don’t quite trust, like the woman from Canaan who cried to Jesus for help. It doesn’t matter who they are. We are called to act, work towards reconciliation and to show mercy.
And when all Christians – and those of other faiths – work together, to show God’s love in action, then we can sing with the pilgrims who would sing Psalm 133 as they made their way to Jerusalem to worship God on one of the high Holy days of Judaism Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity! It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the hills of Zion. For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.