Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lavish Acts of Mercy

Reflection for Holy Thursday Morning Prayer, April 13, 2017
John 12: 1-11 Mary of Bethany Anoints the Feet of Jesus

The Triduum and Lavish Acts of Mercy

When Lazarus was dead, his sister Mary lamented that her brother would not have died had Jesus come sooner to Bethany. Jesus, after weeping at the tomb of his dear friend, performed a miraculous act so that those present would know he is the Resurrection and the life. He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Mary now desires to show her overflowing love for her friend. Perhaps she’s also a bit embarrassed that she ever doubted Jesus.  Mary knows that she needs to do something more than say, I’m sorry. Or thank you. She needs to perform a concrete, extravagant action, just as Jesus often did. And so she anoints Jesus with a liter of aromatic, expensive oil.

Are there not times in our lives when we run from doing the hard thing of performing a concrete action? When we avoid the person we need to show that we’re sorry or even grateful. But look at the example of Jesus and Mary. Both are so present in the moment – she expressing her friendship through lavish gesture and he graciously affirming her action.

But then Judas, of all people, challenges Mary. Couldn’t the oil have been sold for the poor? And Jesus replies, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” In that one startling sentence Jesus summarizes a truth that the Church and the faithful still wrestle with today.  What’s my first priority? Is it my family and friends? Is it God and prayer? Or should I be off on a concrete missionary act of mercy helping those most in need? Jesus seems to be saying, it depends.

Jesus in no way suggests that concrete acts of mercy toward the poor are unnecessary. We need to focus on the people who are in our day to day lives; and we need to intentionally reach out to meet the concrete needs of others, especially the poor.

Just this week, Pope Francis demonstrated the importance of holding in tension the relational, spiritual aspects of being people of mercy and the necessity of concrete acts of charity. On this Holy Thursday, in lavish gesture, Pope Francis will wash the feet of 12 inmates including three women and a man converting from Islam to Catholicism. He will speak with them, touch them, kiss their feet, bless them.  AND earlier this week our Holy Father opened the “Pope’s Laundry,” a free laundromat for Rome’s homeless. This adds to other services – distribution of essential items, a barber, healthcare. His diverse actions over the course of this week offer a beautiful model of what it means to be a Catholic Church of mercy in the midst of a wider community of need, both relationally and in concrete acts of charity and mercy.

Where do we start in imitating Jesus and Mary and Francis? The Triduum is an opportunity not to be missed. As a Catholic faith community we will gather together in worship and prayer. In these three days we, like Mary, lay at the feet of Jesus, amazed at all that he has done for us. But this weekend Jesus and Pope Francis call all of us not only to worship but also to be the hospitable, merciful face of Jesus to all who enter our doors. We can perform intentional, lavish acts of mercy when we welcome the stranger returning to the Church, people who may be feeling embarrassed or wary or out of place. You can talk to your good friends any time but the poor in spirit may not be here next week if we do not reach out and touch them when they join us in prayer on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.

Can you be the person who encounters someone whose faith needs resurrecting? Can you be the one who welcomes and reassures a parent with restless children? Can you anoint the stranger with a warm smile and greeting – maybe even give them your seat on Easter?

This is how Jesus wishes to be encountered by us. These are the acts of mercy he thirsts for us to perform. This is how we will fill our worship space with the sweet fragrance of the love and friendship of Jesus that is meant for all. 

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