Monday 6 March 2023 2nd week of Lent
O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.
Psalm 78 Do not treat us according to our sins, O Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’
I suppose as we consider the first reading, one of the first questions that comes up is about exile. What is the nature of exile? Where in our own lives and in our world do we witness exile? Surely, yes, there is the exile of those who are isolated because they are away from their own land, due to war, or catastrophe, or other circumstance, but there are also those who are exiled because they have shut themselves off, cut themselves off from the people around them, disconnected from the realities of life, have become psychologically or socially inhibited, stunted, or wounded. There are many people living in exile today. Perhaps it is one of the great illnesses of our time. Social media connects the globe but encloses us in our own assumptions. The challenge before leadership today is to reach out and serve all people and avoid becoming a cult of egoism. As Daniel says, “We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.”
Exile needs mercy. Love as compassion is the only way to enable a return from exile. The people of Israel cry out as they acknowledge their exile from God. They are not just exiled from their land, but from most profoundly their relationship with their God is ruptured, and they feel this deeply. It is like being cut off from their own heart, from their own centre, from all that gives meaning and purpose to their lives.
In this season of Lent, we reflect on the ways we ourselves are exiled. In what ways do I exile? In what ways do we exile one another? In what ways are we trapped in exile because we have become disconnected from God?
Jesus puts all this into context when he talks about compassion. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.” Compassion opens our hearts. It breaks open the stoney, stubborn, closed places within us. Jesus reminds us that judgement traps us in our own assumptions and presuppositions. It creates containers into which we can put people, but, perhaps unexpectedly, those same little boxes confine us and our perceptions of life. They create prisons for the mind and caskets for the heart.
This is why Jesus reminds us to suspend judgement, cynicism, and fear. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.” As always, he is concerned for us and for how we can live the life of God fully and with a capacity to give ourselves unreservedly. In his way, we move beyond what limits us, and we are able to love more fully, and to give ourselves more completely, as God gives himself so completely to us. “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”
Compassion and mercy bring us back from exile. A friend in ministry to street gangs in southern California told me a story recently, of how they accompanied one hardened criminal with a kind of tenacious kindness, deep understanding, and non-judgmental attitude. Always there, even in tough times. The drug lord eventually left behind his street life and became a church leader. He came home from exile. Compassion and mercy did that.