Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rich In Mercy?

Early in his 1980 encyclical, Rich In Mercy (quoted below), Pope John Paul II reminds us that Jesus words and actions, that of proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, setting at liberty those who are oppressed, and proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord made the Father present among to the people.

 That is, Jesus' ministry, especially to the poor and the weak, revealed to the watching world the presence and the love of the Father.  Jesus made the Father present as love and mercy.

Which asks us what (who) makes the Father's love and mercy present today if not the church extant? And who makes know by actions the rich accepting love of the living, risen Christ if not the community who claims his name?

I have no idea whether the church in the West is fulfilling this calling, but I fear that we may be more concerned with our own ease and fulfillment instead of those who the Pontiff describes as "the poor, those without means of subsistence, those deprived of their freedom, the blind who cannot see the beauty of creation, those living with broken hearts or suffering from social injustice, and finally sinners."

If this is at all an accurate statement, then truly we are a tragic lot. Culturally captive and deformed in discipleship, we lope along with a god made in our own image and we speak words from our own private dictionary.

This was especially driven home to me recently when I read Peter Rollins book, The Orthodox Heretic (just .99 for the Kindle for the moment), which includes a particularly modern twist to the feeding of the 5,000
The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales
Jesus & the Five Thousand (a First World translation) 

by Pete Rollins 
13 Jesus withdrew privately by boat to a solitary place, but the crowds continued to follow Him. Evening was now approaching and the crowds, many of whom had travelled a great distance, were growing hungry.
14 Seeing this Jesus sent his disciples out to gather food, but all they could find were five loaves of bread and two fishes. 15 Then Jesus asked that they go out again and gather up the provisions which the crowds had brought to sustain them in their travels. Once this was accomplished there stood before Jesus a mountain of fish and bread. 16 He then directed the people to sit down on the grass.
17 Standing before the food and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks to God and broke the bread. 18 Then he passed the food around his disciples and they ate like kings in full view of the starving people. 19 But what was truly amazing, what was miraculous about this event, was that when they had finished the massive banquet there was not even enough crumbs to fill a starving hand.

from DIVES IN MISERICORDIA ("Rich In Mercy") by John Paul II

16. Before his own townspeople in Nazareth, Christ refers to the words of the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." These phrases, according to Luke, are his first messianic declaration. They are followed by the actions and words known through the Gospel.

17. By these actions and words Christ makes the Father present among men. It is very significant that the people in question are especially the poor, those without means of subsistence, those deprived of their freedom, the blind who cannot see the beauty of creation, those living with broken hearts or suffering from social injustice, and finally sinners. It is especially for these last that the Messiah becomes a particularly clear sign of God who is love, a sign of the Father. In this visible sign the people of our own time, just like the people then, can see the Father.

18. It is significant that when the messengers sent by John the Baptist came to Jesus to ask him: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"[20] he answered by referring to the same testimony with which he had begun his teaching at Nazareth: "Go and tell John what it is that you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them." He then ended with the words: "And blessed is he who takes no offense at me!"[21]

19. Especially through his lifestyle and through his actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live—an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty—in contact with the whole historical "human condition," which in various ways manifests man's limitation and frailty, both physical and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests itself that in biblical language is called "mercy."

20. Christ, then, reveals God who is Father, who is "love," as St. John will express it in his first letter;[22] Christ reveals God as "rich in mercy," as we read in St. Paul.[23] This truth is not just the subject of a teaching; it is reality made present to us by Christ. Making the Father present as love and mercy is, in Christ's own consciousness, the fundamental touchstone of his mission as the Messiah; this is confirmed by the words that he uttered first in the synagogue at Nazareth and later in the presence of his disciples and of John the Baptist's messengers.