12 November 2005

" I desire mercy, and not sacrifice..."

Some days ago during my Sunday morning Bible study, the readings in my guide included this one:
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:10-13)

One of the great souls who guides my understanding of God is Oswald Chambers. I've lost track of the number of times the reading for a particular day speaks exactly to what I am wrestling with in other areas of my life.

On November 11, his text was "Take now thy son." Genesis xxii.ii.
...Abraham did not choose the sacrifice. Always guard against self-chosen service for God; self-sacrifice may be a disease. If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him. If the providential order of God for you is a hard time of difficulty, go through with it, but never choose the scene of your martyrdom... (My Utmost for His Highest)
For most of my life, I believed that I should choose always to sacrifice myself to the preferences of others. My mother was a lot like the Anchoress' Paterfamilias, whom she wrote about in this post, and I wasn't as strong as the Anchoress, and I didn't leave. Instead, I married a man whose behavior felt familiar to me. Need I say more?

The result was not good. It took many years of determined recovery to be able to cope at all normally with life, and I shall always have to be alert to my self-annihilating tendencies - which is why those passages struck me and have stayed with me every day since.

Other Christians in the blog world have lately been ruminating on what is appropriate behavior for Christians who have all "the comforts and conveniences of life" (a favorite phrase from a thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer) when presented with beggars or the homeless. It is possible to drown in guilt over this, and to want to deny oneself everything in an excess of zeal. There again, we need to let God decide. Unless we are clearly led to sell all we have and give to the poor, we need to remember that, unless we work and think and consume and build and buy, there will be no work for those who clean offices and make paper and put together computers and grow food and fold clothes and frame houses and stand at checkout counters. It is not wrong for us to make use of the good things which God provides, only wrong to hoard and deny others. That said, I'm with Julie D., and carry bottles of water in the car, offering them to those who ask for aid, in addition to my donations to charities. If I give up working and sell all I have, I shall be miserable and it won't do any good; it's not what I'm called to do. I'm called to work hard and give generously and use wisely and be frugal.

I always felt torn between my desire to give them something ("a cup of cold water") and my husband's strong feelings against doing so. Now that I am alone, I can listen to my heart, and remember this, which Julie D. quoted:
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't. -- St. John Vianney
Exactly so.We need to take care of ourselves - even to the point of caring for our consciences by doing right when we feel the leading to do so. I am to have mercy on myself, and not decide on my own what to sacrifice. I need to take good care of myself, and others, as God leads and allows.

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