Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Herod's Voice and the Year of Mercy

Matthew 2: 1 – 3, 7 – 8, 10 – 12
. . . Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship him.” . . . [But] having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.
The way of the world tends to be self-centered. It’s basic human nature to look out for myself; to put my own wants and needs ahead of others; to see my opinion and worldview as being the only correct one. It’s kind of like original sin. But as followers of Jesus, we, like the Magi in the Gospel for the Feast of the Epiphany, are called to go home by another way.
King Herod, the villain in today’s Gospel, represents self-centeredness and the pull of the world. There’s a little echo of Herod’s voice in all of us. Call it my own personal Herod. And this basic human tendency is an obstacle to following Jesus and to becoming an instrument of compassion, forgiveness and mercy for our world. It’s an obstacle to going home.
For us, like the Magi, the only way back home is through the manger. But to enter we need to leave our baggage at the door because the manger is small, there’s only room enough for a compassionate, forgiving and merciful heart.
Our own personal Herod lies and tries to trick us like he tried to trick the Magi. He wants us to hold onto our baggage: to any hurt, bitterness, prejudice or selfishness that we’ve been carrying. He tells us that our opinion is the only correct one.
He tells us that there are certain people – living or dead – whom we can never forgive, never show mercy to, never accept: people who may have hurt us deeply, people or groups of people we feel morally superior to. He wants us to ignore Jesus’ call to unconditional compassion, forgiveness and mercy. He wants to keep us out of that manger and to stop us from getting home.
Where the Magi had a dream to lead them safely home, we have the example of Jesus in the gospel. No one had to grovel for forgiveness in the New Testament. Jesus embraced lepers; he sat down to eat with tax cheats and prostitutes; he didn’t tell the woman at the well to stay away until she fixed her multiple marriages. The things that brought out anger in Jesus were hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
We also have the Church’s call to live the Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy. And in a very special way our Holy Father Pope Francis has set off an alarm clock to remind us of this: he has given us this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
As we come to the end of this Christmas season and continue to journey through this Year of Mercy, let us examine our hearts. Are we compassionate, forgiving and merciful, or do we carry a grudge? Are our doors and telephones always open, or are there family members and friends we have shut out? Are we inclusive and non-judgmental, or do we exclude others because they are different or don’t measure up to our moral standards? Are we present to the poor, the sick, and those held captive in many different kinds of prisons? Are we welcoming the stranger and those fleeing violence, persecution and disaster?
Let us pray for the grace to open any closed chambers of our hearts. Let us offer not just one Year of Mercy, but rather a lifetime of compassion, forgiveness and mercy to all our sisters and brothers, without exception. And let us leave our baggage at the door of the manger and go home by another way.
Readers of this blog might enjoy these books by Deacon Lex. All are available on Amazon.com:
Just to Follow My Friend: Experiencing God’s Presence in Everyday Life

Synchronicity as the Work of the Holy Spirit: Jungian Insights for Spiritual Direction and Pastoral Ministry

The Gospel of You, The Gospel of Me: Making Christ Present in Everyday Life