Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Last week’s lenten readings were centered on prayer, this week’s are about mercy. Our gospel readings from Matthew and Luke are written with a particular audience in mind. Both describe who Jesus is and what he taught, but each does it with an eye to his own time and place.
Matthew’s gospel, for example, was written for Jewish Christians who were still living, rather uneasily, among their fellow Jews, possibly in Syria or Palestine, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The synagogues Matthew describes in today’s gospel are the synagogues of his time rather than the Galilean synagogues of Jesus’ day. Now they’re in the hands of Jewish leaders trying to salvage Judaism after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
These current teachers “on the chair of Moses” are honored in Jewish society and on the streets. They’re keeping Judaism alive in the synagogues; Jews are living together, praying and keeping their traditions under a new discipline, replacing the former discipline of the temple in Jerusalem.
Yet the followers of Jesus aren’t welcome in this new order, Matthew’s gospel indicates, and so they need to remember that Jesus is their teacher, even if he is not recognized. Having power in a synagogue isn’t what’s important; being a servant is. Jesus had servant power.
But again, this week is about mercy. Matthew’s gospel tends to be hard on the Jewish society of his day, commentators note, so how does it contribute to that teaching ? I’ll bet readings from Luke were introduced into this 2nd week of Lent for his wonderful perspective on mercy. Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the greatest stories of mercy in the scriptures, closes this week.
Yesterday we heard Jesus’ strong teaching on mercy, also from Luke.“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you. “
Still, if mercy is the teaching this week, why read this gospel from Matthew we today? Does it tell us mercy doesn’t happen in an instant; It takes time? People don’t change quickly, situations don’t change quickly. Mercy doesn’t come to us easily.
Mercy is something we to ask for every day; we ask it for ourselves and for others. Lord, have mercy.
lead me away from temptations of self-importance,
as if my ideas, my vision, my convenience matter most.
You came to serve and not to be served.
Show me how to wish for what’s best for others
and save me from being a know-it-all.
Show me my faults,
and then take them away.