Saturday, January 30, 2010

01-24-2010: Third Sunday Ordinary Time

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nehemiah 8:2-6,8-10 / Psalm 19 / 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 / Luke 1:1-4;4:14-21
Did Jesus lie? Is God trustworthy?

In theology, such questions are understood by the technical term theodicy - the problem of God’s justice, or put plainly: How can a good God permit the innocent to suffer? It is the particular problem of monotheistic religions which claim that there is but one God and so cannot blame all the bad things that happen on some opposing, equally powerful deity. Or, as C.S. Lewis once put it: I have no problem believing in God, but I do sometimes wonder if he is good.

Witnessing the recent horrific events in Haiti - the earthquake, the untold number of dead, the suffering and desperation of millions - believers might wonder, with Lewis, if God is indeed good. Some, like Pat Robertson and evangelical Christians in general, rush to God’s defense at the expense of compassion. They assert that if God permits people to suffer, those people therefore must not be innocent. Claiming that since Haiti had long ago made a pact with the devil (regarding the practice of Voodoo, one assumes), God was finally taking his revenge. Or, like some zealous followers of the new ecological religion, Danny Glover would claim that planet Earth was taking her revenge for a lack of ardor expressed at the recent summit on global-warming in Copenhagen. Whether we blame human suffering on a vengeful God, bad karma, or the role of the dice, we human beings seem to need to make sense of things, find a reason for it all; we’re desperate to find a meaning in what seems just pure chaos - meaninglessness incarnate.

But the heart has its reasons, Blaise Pascal wrote, which reason does not know. If there’s one word to describe what’s going on in Haiti, it’s misery. And misery is itself a strange word. It’s cognate with the Latin, misericordia, which we could literally understand as heart-misery, but nevertheless translate as mercy. Or maybe there’s an innate connection. Mercy may be the only authentic response to what the heart perceives as misery. When misery touches the heart, mercy is born. Mercy, different than mere goodness or charity, is always and intimately linked with suffering. Mercy is the practice of goodness and charity made personal, made heart-felt.

Perhaps this is why there was so great a response on the part of so many to the events in Haiti last week. We want to somehow help in the rescue, to relieve the heartache, the heart-misery. Since we cannot help directly, we do so by our prayers and donations. We live the hero’s role – vicariously. But here is where the events of Haiti can teach and reveal something further: we are all called to be heroes - and not just vicariously. We relish news of our heroes, Helen Hayes once said, forgetting we are extraordinary to somebody too. The lessons of misery and mercy don’t begin or end with Haiti; they can help each of us reflect on our own particular lives, our personal experience of misery and how that misery in another evokes mercy in me. The sad thing is (or is it a blessing in disguise) there is no dearth of misery in the world - and so there remains a great need for heroes. Who is calling to you for mercy? Whom will you seek to save?

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