Today’s Year of Mercy phrase could very well be Spare the Judgment, brothers and sisters.
Our Gospel of James and John’s fast fury request upon a Samaritan town tells us how we all need to understand more about the Mercy part of God’s plan for saving the world, since people in the world seem to be quick to judgment, anger and scorn of others. In the Christian body today, some followers of Christ Jesus mistakenly think they have carte blanche to acting in self-righteousness, in jumping into judgment, as we heard James and John do it in this Luke 9 episode. The sons of thunder were back to their old ways of the flesh, and we can get tempted likewise.
Here’s what I am saying: Some Christians sort of self-appoint themselves as judge for The Faith, with a look-down-upon-others superior attitude, as if they (the judger) have earned it or have been given it interiorly from above. (Oh, really?!) In those times of quick judgment, they think they are better than others, and they show it in their actions and words against others–even unto other believers in Christ. It can get pretty ugly, for such practices are wrong, and only the truth is beautiful, but some Christians take this business of their self-importance way out. It is so unlike the model of Jesus’ life.
As Jesus hears the scout apostles’ rash recommendation, you can hear Jesus saying back to them and all his close followers: ‘It’s Mercy from the Lord’s Anointed, right now, brothers! Mercy will lead us. It will lead us to another town. You have much to learn still in your attitude towards others. God is the One reserved for all righteous judgment, and His day cometh! But it the Lord of Mercy Who works now…’
Right within the Catholic Faithful today, and I mean across the board in parishes and various places, haven’t you noticed a little pride here, a little hate there, with some rash opinions and ideas and actions going on from a fellow member of the Church? I am talking about not just rich or advantaged members among us, of whom you might expect them to be tempted by their situations, but also in seeing it in ordinary people in the flock, sinning with this *I am better attitude. I am not directing my comments locally here in this parish, but in general, of how some Christians seem to be known more from their pride, than of their humility. All of this is not a good practice within our ranks. To have fellow believers (or ourselves) doing or saying things that are rude, selfish, and hurtful to others–this is sad! Why is it that we say or do such rash things on one another and to non-believers? The pope brought up a similar question this week, as he probably was looking, too, at this Sunday Gospel case of James and John being embarrassingly off-the-mark, and seeing how they will need reproof from Jesus. They also will need to better know their Christ ahead from a Cross of Mercy.
We know what the Lord said of the requirement of becoming His disciple. He began by saying: “Deny your very self.” He meant that we should un-exalt “Self” from our way of being. Or look to be humble. Jesus was now expecting this development from his apostles. He would want them to later learn to bring all judgment to His Cross and for God alone to deal with sizing up people.
In today’s Gospel, we are hearing and reading about a turning point. Luke’s text today says it this way: “In the days He was taken up….” which means that the rest of the story from here on in is involved with Jesus being lifted up: On the Cross, In His Resurrection, In His Ascension, and in Exaltation at God’s Right Hand.
In noting James and John and the other disciples poor attitude toward the Samaritans, Jesus has purposely taken this faster but “unclean” route (through Samaria) to get directly to Jerusalem. In his lesson via walking this way, He is saying: ‘Let’s not skirt or go around some issues here– I am Mercy to be poured out to all peoples.’ You see, Luke’s Gospel was written out to all the world, not just to the familiar Jewish peoples (like for whom Matthew’s Gospel was written). Though the apostles in this occasion of Luke’s story saw the Samaritans as unfit, unclean, unworthy, undesirable people, it is interesting how later the apostles were converted to Mercy, as Acts tells of them evangelizing and loving the Samaritans (in Luke’s telling in Acts, for instance).
Let’s re-examine that time the sons of thunder apostles had sinned and judged their neighbor in hated. In some sort of conniption and anti-Samaritan rage, they asked Jesus about some punishment being deserved on the Samaritan town: “Should we call down fire on these people, Lord?” This episode shows us of the ugliness of a follower of Jesus going off and doing their own thing, heading away from Mercy, and making a wrong viewpoint or assessment of things, with an arrogant attitude in their minds and hearts. Jesus has to rebuke James and John, and perhaps a few others. The sons of thunder need to cool down their pride and stop acting in their former ways of the flesh.
Notice today how the epistle has a similar message to the Galatians. Paul says to them: “Love your neighbor as yourself, and do not go on biting and devouring one another (in your sinful flesh), I say, then, live by the Spirit… if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under just the legal system, but under God’s Way, to not be slaves of the flesh.”
The best part of James and John’s actions in this Gospel account in Luke 9 is probably that they first asked Jesus about what to do, before acting so rashly. They wanted fire and punishment on those ‘lousy’ Samaritans, but they asked Him about how to respond to their angry feelings. Jesus calmed them down. He did not let them act out on the sinful thoughts they were harboring. Someday ahead in ministry, they would learn to not even sin by that way of thought again. We can so learn from this aspect of the story to check in with Jesus before acting on our anger and get back at others feelings.
We need Jesus to be the Calming Help for us. He is Mercy–the path away from hate or contention.
In another comment, the strange thing about this account told is that James and John first thought they were saying and doing the right thing. It was popular to knock a Samaritan, to curse him, to avoid him, or to put him and all his lot down. Those stinking Samaritans–they had it coming! ‘Oh no they don’t and no you don’t,’ says Jesus.
He will need to teach His disciples many more lessons about Mercy and its freedom–about what it’s influence must be. This also, by the way, has been the perspective of Pope Francis, and it’s a reason for this current Year of Mercy. The pope will probably comment on these readings himself, as to why anyone is biting or devouring another, or wishing harm, or making quick rash judgment on others– looking for fire to come down on someone they are at odds with. He will remind everyone how we are in a Year of Mercy to learn the Way of Jesus. What are you learning of Mercy this year?…
In the final stretch of this homily, let me provide a few applications. Here are a four everyday lessons to point out for everyday people in applying this Gospel. 1/We are not free to hurl criticisms, 2/ nor offer hearsay judgment, 3/ nor make slanted remarks, 4/ nor give wicked glances at others! Especially not towards those in the body of Christ, as we have to start in our witness at home.
The Word says: “They will know we are Christians by our love (says John 13:35).” In successful ministry of mutual love and mercy in the Church, hopefully those outside of it will say of us, ‘See how they love one another?’ Hopefully, too, they will say of us towards them, ‘See how they are merciful and loving towards us, even though we are not living like them, but reportedly living as sinners to God?’
What kind of merciful Church can we be? What kind of merciful parish or household or individual Catholic can we be? There is no place for any harbored hate or animosity or fighting in the ranks of the Faithful, nor of the mindset among us of anyone’s being better and more favored than another for our place in the Church. Listen to Pope Francis, as he made similar points on this week in the Year of Mercy.