26 Pentecost, Year A
26 Pentecost, Year A
Most of us have heard and likely experienced first hand, the old adage: “There is seeing, then there is seeing;” or perhaps the other famous expression: “I cannot see the forest for the trees.” The following story is a good illustration of such truth.
A young man became obsessed with a passion for Truth so he took leave of his family and friends and set out in search of it. He traveled over many lands, sailed across many oceans, climbed many mountains, and all in all, went through a great deal of hardship and suffering.
One day he awoke to find he was seventy-five years old and had still not found the Truth he had been searching for. So he decided, sadly, to give up the search and go back home.
It took him months to return to his hometown for he was an old man now. Once home, he opened the door of his house—and there he found that Truth had been patiently waiting for him all those years.
QUESTION: Did his journey help him to find Truth?
ANSWER: No, but it prepared him to recognize it. 1
It has been said that the eyes are a window into our soul. In our psalm today, mention of eyes is made four times in the first two verses. For ancient Israel, as for the man in the story, as for us today, there is seeing, then there is seeing; the forest cannot always been seen for the trees. As in the story, and also in our lives, our journey and failures to see help us and prepare us to truly see. It is by journeying through the bends in the road, the obstacles, the challenges, the sufferings and disappointments that help and prepare us to see the truth more clearly. In Psalm 123, we learn that ancient Israel discovered the mercy of the LORD by themselves receiving God’s mercy. By facing numerous sufferings from others who treated the Israelites with contempt and scorn; the Israelites could see God’s mercy at work in their lives. God did have mercy upon them, preserved their lives, and blessed their endeavours precisely because they were in need of God’s mercy and their eyes were opened so that they could see and receive God’s mercy. We find what we are looking for when, with the LORD’s help, we know and are properly prepared for what we’re looking for. We see what we need to see when we need to see it. That, in itself, is the work of God’s mercy and grace.
Speaking of mercy, today’s psalm reminds us of the need for mercy. The prayer of ancient Israel and our prayer too was and continues to be: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us.” What is this mercy that Israel and we pray for anyways? Well, in the biblical sense, it is God’s compassion on and care for those especially who are weak, the underdog, and the downtrodden.
In the Hebrew, the word for mercy comes from the same root as the word for womb. Thus, to be merciful, is like giving and receiving the love and compassion that exists between parents and their children. The deep connection between parents and children; the loving care, protection, nurturing, and preservation are all expressions of God’s mercy towards us.
(And) the words “have mercy” (eleison in Greek) come from the same root as elaion, olive tree, and the oil from it. So they speak of healing, soothing, grace. 2
Olive trees, of course live a very long time, this may well be a symbol of the enduring power and longevity of God’s mercy upon Israel and us. An olive shoot in the beak of a dove, of course is the symbol of peace, which we all require to live healthy, prosperous lives. And the church has used olive oil for centuries for the anointing and healing of the sick. Thus, this connection between mercy and olive tree in the Greek language has proven to be a very profound and enriching one for us.
In one sense then, we Christians always are in need of mercy—for all of us are sinners. In our sinful condition, we do not always have 20-20 vision. We do not always live peaceful, healthy, harmonious lifestyles. We fall short of God’s ways. Our selfishness gets in the way, and others as well as ourselves end up getting hurt. We need God’s mercy before we are prepared, able and willing to have mercy upon one another—including our enemies. And so, like Israel, we continuously pray for mercy.
When we pray, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” does it really help? Maybe the answer lies in an incident that took place in 1347, when King Edward III of England invaded France and besieged the city of Calais. Because of the city’s resistance, he promised to destroy it. Finally the city’s burgesses came out and pleaded for clemency if they surrendered. The king answered, “My word is pledged. I cannot go back.”
But then Queen Philippa interposed, saying, “I pray thee, gentle sir, for love of me, forgive them.” And the city was saved. 3
In our present time, when we look at the world situation—especially in the Middle East—there is a dire need for everyone involved in the conflict to practice mercy towards one another. The situation is critical, and now during the Muslim season of Ramadan, in Egypt in particular, there will be a showing of a poisonous antisemitic television series based on The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. This antisemitic document dates back to the 19th century, and is a forgery of the Russian Tsarist’s secret service. In it, the hateful lie is spread that there is a Zionist Jewish conspiracy designed to take over the world. Such a fictitious series during a high holiday season certainly does not help to promote or improve peaceful relationships, respect and greater understanding between Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. Moreover, elsewhere in Europe and here in North America too, there have been an increase of hostile violent acts against the Jewish people. We as Christians are called to help out our Jewish neighbours during such times as this and work with them to establish peace and justice as well as respect and greater understanding.
On a more personal level and a community level, mercy is also required of us in our relationships with each other. It seems to me our psalmist is onto something very insightful when speaking of the way others have treated the ancient Israelites. If we find ourselves treating others with contempt and being proud about it; if we find ourselves being at ease by scorning others; then that ought to be a clear “red flag” for us that we are seriously lacking in practicing mercy. Proud contempt and scornful ease only fuel more hatred towards others.
So, as a people of faith, we have the blessing and example of Jesus; to follow him by practicing mercy towards our spouse and children, our enemies, friends and neighbours. Through prayer and action God’s mercy is made real for others and us. So go out and practice, practice, practice the LORD’s mercy and see the difference it makes in your personal life, the community and the larger world. Amen!
1 Cited from: Anthony de Mello, The Heart Of The Enlightened (Toronto, New York, London, Sydney, Auckland: Doubleday, 1989), pp. 178-79.
2 Cited from: Lyn Klug, All Will Be Well: A Gathering of Healing Prayers (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), p. 84.