Mercy within Mercy within Mercy

Daniel 9:4b-10 is a profound acknowledgement of sinfulness. God is just, merciful and compassionate and we have rebelled. What sin? We usually think of sin as an individual, private matter. Sin also has communal or corporate aspects. In spite of what we may have retained from our catechism training, there is more to sin than the Sixth Commandment. Daniel has a profound concept of sin:

We have sinned, been wicked and done evil;
we have rebelled and departed from your commandments and your laws.
We have not obeyed your servants the prophets,
who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes,
our fathers, and all the people of the land.
Justice, O Lord, is on your side;
we are shamefaced even to this day:

For well over a century now, Popes and bishops have been telling us that sin is social. Being a core biblical concept, it is about restoring right relationships in all dimensions of life. Justice is communal.  Sin and justice have structural manifestations. We sin when we fail to do the best for the least among us. We sin when we go along with the whims and wiles of empire to assure our own comforts. We sin when we purchase sweat shop products.  We sin when we acquiesce to unjust wars. We sin when our consumerism makes us complicit in the sin of oppression.

Richard Rohr says that in his forty years as a priest, he has never had anyone confess a sin against the Tenth Commandment—coveting the neighbor’s goods. Yet, social sin thrives on greed more so than on pelvic matters. Greed causes wars for oil. Greed causes actions for the economic domination of others.

Pope Paul VI describes greed and its effects, “. . .  the acquiring of temporal goods can lead to greed, to the insatiable desire for more, and can make increased power a tempting objective. Individuals, families and nations can be overcome by avarice, be they poor or rich, and all can fall victim to a stifling materialism.” (Populorum Progressio, 1967)

Merton eschewed materialism, greed, and consumerism:

The great sin, the source of all other sin, is idolatry and never has it been greater, more prevalent than now. Yet it is almost completely unrecognized precisely because it is so overwhelming and so total. It takes in everything. There is nothing else left. Fetishism of power, machine, possessions, medicines, sports, clothes, etc., all kept going by greed for money and power. The bomb is only one accidental aspect of the cult. Indeed, the bomb is not the worst. We should be thankful for it as a sign, a revelation of what all the rest of our civilization points to. The self-immolation of man to his own greed and his own despair. And behind it all are the principalities and powers whom man serves in his idolatry. (A Vow of Conversation)

Giving into greed is self-immolation that leads to angst and alienation. Furthermore, Merton believed that greed is the root of violence:

A society that lives by organized greed or by systematic terrorism and oppression (they come to much the same thing in the end) will always tend to be violent because it is in a state of persistent disorder and moral confusion. The first principle of valid political action in such a society then becomes non-cooperation with its disorder, its injustices, and more particularly with its deep commitment to untruth. Satyagraha is meaningless if it is not based on the awareness of profound inner contradiction in all societies based on force. (Gandhi on Nonviolence)

The put-down tag of the day is “socialist.” If “conservatives” label feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as socialism, so be it. It is the essence of the Christian Gospel. “We have sinned, been wicked, and done evil.” Lent is a time to turn things around.

Our fishing guide was a First American—Cherokee and Choctaw. He told us many stories. One struck me. He went to Cherokee, NC. On the way into the town he saw a destitute man by the roadside. He bought him a blanket and some food and took it back to him. Later, while visiting a church, the women were telling him about their new building and kitchen. He called them to task for not planning to have a soup kitchen. It is the Cherokee way to take care of people in need—regardless of why they are in need. Sometimes it seems to be the White (Christian) peoples’ way to find reasons for not helping people in need—they dropped out of school, they will not look for (a low-paying) job, I worked for what I have, etc. . . .

Jesus came to show us the face of Abba God. Luke 6:36-38 assures us that Abba God is merciful. Having experienced the mercy and compassion of God, we are to be mercy to others. In Islam, mercy/compassion is the principal name for Allah among the 99 names for Allah. Merton’s study of Sufism—Islamic mysticism—taught him that God is “mercy within mercy within mercy.”

Judging and condemning is counter to mercy and compassion. When we attribute motives and intentions to others, we are not being merciful.

Forgiveness is the key to Christian living. If we fail to forgive those who have offended us, we end up destroying ourselves. It behooves us to go through the process of forgiving. It does take time but we must do it.

Give and you will receive gifts. I think that Jesus is saying here that what goes around comes around. God is merciful and compassionate. He is not the angry sin-counter in the sky waiting to zap us for our sins. Sin sets in motion dynamics that have natural consequences; therefore, what we measure out will be measured to us.

Back to current political scene. Jesus came to proclaim a Kin-dom, a new social order. This social order, contrary to Marx’s view is not “pie in the sky when we die.” It is now. It is real. It will be fulfilled.

Government cannot do everything; however, the purpose of government is to make sure people have what they need in order to be citizens. Government’s role is to assure  all people, including then least among us, have what they need to ,lead human lives now. If people are to participate in democratic government, government and private agencies must work together to assure that people have food, shelter, education, and health care so they can participate in government. This is nothing less than what Jesus requires of his disciples in Matthew 25. We seem to not have problem spending untold billions for war and defense. We balk and rebel when our leaders speak about spending for education and health care.

There is something un-Christian about this picture. The attitude may reflect the prosperity gospel; however, it does not reflect Jesus’ values. At times, we must be counter cultural and call our elected officials back to true north Gospel values like compassion.


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