Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Works of Mercy--Our Opportunity and Responsibility

Just Thoughts: The Works of Mercy

If you had religion classes as a child, you might have learned to recite by heart the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. These were celebrated most prominently in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 25, verses 34-46), and trace their lineage back to Jewish tradition and scripture. The Works of Mercy are among the most precious elements of our religious heritage, and they are honored and taught by many traditions such as the Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Orthodox churches. One can also see these guiding principles in the social justice work of Unitarian-Universalist, United Church of Christ, and Mennonite churches. St. Mary's is my parish in Painesville, Ohio, and our ministries live out these exhortations of Jesus, the Corporal Works of Mercy:

1. To feed the hungry. 2. To give drink to the thirsty. 3. To clothe the naked. 4. To shelter the homeless. 5. To visit the sick. 6. To visit the imprisoned. 7. To bury the dead.

If you are not finding the opportunities for doing the Works of Mercy, contact the people in charge of the various ministries of your church. At our parish, we do all of these, every day of the year. Most of this work is done by volunteers, who don’t see it as a burden, but a blessing, a great opportunity.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are these:

1. To instruct the ignorant. 2. To counsel the doubtful. 3. To admonish sinners. 4. To bear wrongs patiently. 5. To forgive offenses willingly. 6. To comfort the afflicted. 7. To pray for the living and the dead.

The first three Spiritual Works of Mercy probably demand a level of expertise, education, and training that not everyone possesses. But we can all bear wrongs patiently and forgive offenses willingly. And it is so important to comfort the afflicted (and maybe occasionally, like Jesus in the Cleansing of the Temple, to afflict the too comfortable!). And can there be any excuse not to constantly pray for the living and the dead? That is everyone’s vocation and opportunity, even the sick and the homebound.

The Works of Mercy help us honor the Great Commandment given to us by the Lord in Matthew 22:36-40: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Living out the Works of Mercy obeys this Great Commandment and helps usher in the Just Kingdom, the Beloved Community that Martin Luther King Jr. and Maurice McCrackin spoke of.

Postscript: When I showed someone a draft of this blog posting, she reminded me that the ideas behind the Works of Mercy can be found in many other religious traditions, not just the Jewish and Christian traditions. 

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