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July 22, 2018 - Gut-Wrenching Merciful Love

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

The other day, I met with a young mother of three beautiful children. After merely seven years of marriage, she feels abandoned. Now she must file for a divorce for the sake of getting support for her children. While her sadness came from the fact that her marriage was falling apart, she also felt that as a Catholic if she sought for divorce, she would go to hell. She said that her faith in God was completely crushed. She felt abandoned by God. She cried through the entire hour-and-a-half she spent with me.  After much listening and some thought, I invited her to consider God’s presence in her life just a little differently. I said to her, God is not sitting up somewhere these disconnected from you or your life. God has not abandoned you. I said to her that God is beside you, crying with you. As you cry, there are tears in God’s eyes. God cannot forcefully change your husband’s behavior. God can give you the inner strength to go on. Perhaps, this meeting with me is God’s way of caring for you. By the end of the conversation, she was a lot more at peace, even though life ahead seemed to be an uphill climb. But, most of all, she was consoled that she was not going to hell. 

Perhaps, there is hardly anyone here who at one time or another did not feel that life was falling apart. Everyone of us at one time or another feels overwhelmed with what life has to offer. Where is God in these moments?  

Let me offer three points for reflection: 

a) Gut-Wrenching Merciful Love. Today’s gospel passage is precious! It’s one of those rare passages that gives us a glimpse into Jesus emotional life. Twice in the same passage, Mark shows us Jesus’ tender moments. First, becoming aware of how tired his disciples were, he invites them to come away to a deserted place and rest for a while. Unable to get the break he was hoping to get because the crowds kept rushing towards them, Mark tells us, Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity for them” (Mk 6:34). The word “pity” translates the Greek verb esplanchnisthe. The noun form of the word is splanchnon. It is used to refer to the “guts,” for the seat of emotions, and for the heart. The word that we identify most closely with it is compassion. However, it is a little bit more than compassion. Perhaps the Hebrew equivalent oiktrimoi, best expresses its meaning - “merciful love.” In the OT, this kind of love is a quality of God. We find this in Is 54:7-8 where, to his exile people, God says, “With enduring love, I will have compassion on you.” When Mark says, “his heart was moved with pity for them,” he was saying that Jesus was moved with “gut-wrenching merciful love.” He was saying that Jesus personified God’s “gut-wrenching merciful love.” Jesus was God’s gut-wrenching merciful love in human flesh. Jesus was God’s heartfelt compassion in person. No wonder, then, that people kept coming to Jesus. In him, they could touch God’s “gut-wrenching merciful love.”  

b) The Emotional Life of Jesus. Before I go to the practical implication, I want to draw your attention to an area of Jesus’ life that perhaps we do not pay much attention to – Jesus’ emotional life. We may not realize this if we do not read all of Chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, but, between the accounts of Jesus sending his disciples out on their mission (last week’s gospel reading), and them coming back to Jesus (this week’s gospel reading), Mark tucks in a signature event in the life of Jesus – the gruesomely cruel murder of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod. What would Jesus have felt when he heard about his murder? Do you think that Jesus wondered if the Baptist’s fate might someday be his as well? On a very human level, what do you think John’s death emotionally did to Jesus? While he was the merciful love of God, Jesus himself was in need of compassion. Except for the women who cared for him, we do not have many details about people showing Jesus merciful love. On the contrary, a death more brutal than John the Baptist awaited him. I wonder what that was like for Jesus?   

c) What does the above reflection mean for us? Two things: When we feel lost like the people in the gospel; when we feel that we were falling apart; when we feel overcome by our weaknesses; When we feel like that young mother felt - we must remember that we are not alone. We can believe that Christ is beside with because he encountered our pain, loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, and loss. In fact, God is closest to us in our pain. Second, from within our own experience of pain and loss, Christ invites us to be the “gut-wrenching merciful love” of God to those who are lost, those in pain, those who are falling apart. Just like Jesus, we can be God’s “gut-wrenching merciful love” in flesh. To those who are in need, we can be the presence of the Christ whose “heart was moved with pity.” Nobody should feel lost and abandoned, because Christians are the “gut-wrenching merciful love” of God in flesh. 

Each Eucharist is a celebration of the gut-wrenching merciful love of God. As we receive this love in communion, let us decide to be this love in human flesh for others. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph