The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Isaiah 35:4-7 + James 2:1-5 + Mark 7:31-37
September 5, 2021
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf uncleared ….”
Mercy is the key that unlocks the human heart. Mercy makes it possible for the human heart to become what God created the human heart to be. Yet once a person has opened his heart to the gift of mercy, God is free to pour in all manner of gifts. But if the sinner refuses to accept mercy, his heart remains tight shut, and God respects that decision.
It’s in this sense that mercy is God’s primary gift to fallen man. Mercy is not primary in importance, in the sense that there is no mercy bestowed to those in Heaven. Yet mercy is primary in the order of fallen man. God always respects human free will, even though His divine Will is infinitely more powerful. But if you don’t accept God’s gift of mercy, your heart is shut to all His other gifts.
The Church, as our mother, has for two thousand years preached that mercy is the primary need of mankind. This is true not only within the Church, but outside the Church as well. That is to say, each of us Christians needs to accept mercy so that we can be forgiven and hopefully one day enter Heaven. However, we also need to accept God’s mercy because He calls us to bear the Good News of mercy to the fallen, divided, hateful world in which we live. Yet we can’t be messengers of God’s mercy to those outside the Church if we haven’t first been on the receiving end of God’s mercy. So consider the meaning of mercy.
By way of practical example, consider the way that a child does or does not experience mercy from those around him. A child who doesn’t know that he’s loved at his worst will never accept the gifts that will make him his best. Remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son. If the prodigal son hadn’t turned to his father for mercy, then the father—who all along was deeply hoping and praying for his son to return—could not have rushed out to give him mercy and then also other gifts such as a ring and a feast.
It’s the same in your life as a sinner. Because you are a sinner, God the Father’s merciful love is primary. He has already accomplished the work of forgiving your sins by the offering of His Only-Begotten Son on the Cross two thousand years ago. But you have to accept that gift of mercy. Once you accept that gift into your heart, mind, and soul, the flood-gates are opened and God the Father can pour into your life many other gifts.
Imagine the life of a child in a wealthy family. Imagine the child’s father is named Daddy Warbucks. Daddy Warbucks is a man who constantly gives material gifts to his child. But there’s one thing that Daddy Warbucks never gifts his child with, and that’s mercy. Fortunately, this child’s conscience is smart enough to tell him that he needs mercy in order to have an authentic relationship with his father. Unfortunately, this child’s conscience also knows that without mercy, no other gift has final meaning, no matter how expensive.
But keeping that first example in mind, imagine a second scenario. It’s very similar, with the same child and the same generous Daddy Warbucks. However, while Daddy Warbucks in this case does offer mercy to his child as a loving gift, the child—for whatever mysterious reason—refuses to accept his father’s gift of mercy. Some might think it odd that a child would refuse the gift of mercy. Unfortunately, for whatever mysterious reason, it’s far more common than people think. There are many adults who have grown up without ever accepting the gift of mercy into their hearts.
It sounds simple, but we know from experience how divided we find ourselves in trying to put our Catholic Faith into practice. We often blame God, claiming that God isn’t granting to us what we need to grow in holiness. In this, we might remember a saying of the Little Flower’s namesake, St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ does not force our will. He takes only what we give Him. But He does not give Himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him.”