Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘Love and Mercy’
Last week’s homily concluded with reference to this week’s Gospel. The conclusion bears repeating. The God of love calls us into a kindom of peace where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given something to drink, strangers are made welcome, the naked are clothed, and those who are ill or imprisoned (or in any way afflicted or entangled – in any way suffering in darkness) are visited with kindness – loving-
There’s another way that Christ is present. Some theologians suggest that the scriptures, the Gospels in particular, represent or stand in for Christ. Today’s Gospel, for example, might be seen as Christ present in the sixfold works of mercy: Christ who feeds (there is enough food and drink, of course, we just need for it to be blessed, broken and given freely and fairly); Christ who welcomes, clothes and visits … We bow to the One who invites us to join in.
And yet, the text is also like Christ in its vulnerability. It’s a fragile text. The marks of the thorns might be seen in at least three places – at three points of vulnerability or ambiguity in the text. These are points of pain/discomfort and also promise …
The first point has to do with nations under judgement – nations comprising communities and individuals; the second point has to do with fiery judgement and ministry to those who suffer; and the third point has to do with Christianity and secular or common humanity. In each case, we are drawn to a point of tension – creative tension – not a problem to be solved so much as a mystery to be lived.
In verse 32 we read that Christ the King/Ruler is seated upon the royal throne and “all the nations” are assembled below. The works of mercy are performed or not performed by nations, or so it seems. It could be that groups within the nations are lauded for their works of mercy. It could be that individuals are praised or criticised. How does it seem to you? An opportunity to involve yourself in corporate works of mercy (together, let’s make a difference to the way that food is distributed, to the way that prisoners are treated in our state, in our nation) – and yet as individuals we are all to be merciful (I am called, personally, in and through the conditions of my life, to respond mercifully to those around me).
Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of the text is the dualism (a feature of this kind of apocalyptic) that sees the accursed “goats” consigned to fiery judgement. It’s a bit extreme, isn’t it? It certainly irritates my more genteel sensibilities. There’s more to this point of pain and promise, however. I need to hear this indictment of unmerciful human beings. There are consequences for those who fail to show mercy. To be merciless – irrespective of other religious or political or social concerns and activities – is to exclude oneself from the life that matters. It’s not about being right. It’s not about being strong. It’s not about being talented, intelligent or respectable. It’s about being merciful – caring, compassionate. One commentator would have us focus on this point: “… mercy leads to life while its opposite leads to exclusion from the banquet of life” (Brendan Byrne). The same commentator then points out something striking in verse 34: “Inherit the kindom prepared for you from the creation of the world,” the Ruler says to the merciful ones. There is no corresponding reference to a fire prepared for human beings. In other words, it is not the will of God for anyone to be punished in such a place. It is, perhaps, the outcome of unmerciful attitudes and actions. It’s also the case that anyone imprisoned or suffering – including the one in self-
The third point of pain and promise – the third point of vulnerability or ambiguity – can be stated thus. If it is the case that merciful nonbelievers are welcomed into the banquet of life – we are not shown devotees of one or other god or cult but simply kind and humane persons – then why bother with Christian mission? Why bother with Christian religion? If, in the end, as Alaskan songstress Jewel avers, “only kindness matters” (“Hands”), then why pray, why meet for worship, why build churches? The question can, of course, be asked the other way around: How does your faith centre about reverence for life, about acknowledging the preciousness of life communicated by the Gospel? How does being a Christian help you to be more merciful? That’s a question we can spend some time considering today – it’s a question we can begin to answer on behalf of all those with whom we share this space, and these resources.
Let’s complete the homily together. How does being religious, a follower of Jesus, a royal subject of Christ, a student of the Gospel, help you to be more merciful? … Amen.