My thoughts this morning are many and varied as I consider my good fortune of being born in this country of freedom and privilege and of the many definitions of wealth. There is also excess and imbalance and abuse of all those things, calling me to ponder the responsibility that is the close companion of all privilege. While the government seems to be in a shambles of division, the weather causing untold heartbreak of loss and destruction and violence at a level that makes us wonder where we’re going, still I sit in a room of my own and know that I will soon eat breakfast and that will not be my only meal today. I know that is not true for everyone in this country but my gratitude is great for the many organizations (including my own religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph) as well as individuals who are striving to eradicate hunger for all citizens. And many people will travel many miles – or share their backyards – to celebrate this day with others.
I find the gospel passage (MT 9:9-13) an interesting coincidence for today. After the call of Matthew, the tax collector, to discipleship Jesus hears the Pharisees questioning his choice as he sits with “tax collectors and sinners” at his house. They wonder why he would choose “people like that” as companions. Jesus answers in the following way that I think is a good meditation for such a day as today. He says, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” This response helps me to forgive myself and others for taking all that we have for granted and calls me to wake up (as is the call every morning) to the needs I see and ponder how best to respond to them to grow our society toward the vision on which the country was founded.
But I’m also interested in the notion that Jesus did not desire sacrifice. Mercy, if defined in the best way I have found as derived from the word merc, includes the concept of exchange, as in commerce or merchant. In that way mercy can be seen not as pity or condescension (“Have mercy on me!”) but rather as an exchange, in the best sense, of love or relationship. Relationship calls us to pour ourselves out for another – the message of Jesus best learned from his example – as an act of the love engendered by the exchange. Thus, nothing is lost/sacrificed except our ego and what is gained is transformation into the persons we are called to be. A noble thought as we pray for God to bless America today.