PS 27:1, 4, 13-14
Recently discussing the topic of mercy, Pope Francis recounted an experience in which a poor woman, whom Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires had helped when she came asking for food for her family, rang the doorbell of the archbishop’s residence. He opened the door, and she said, “I want to thank you.” Francis replied, “for the food I sent over to you?” To which she replied, “No, not only the food, but also because you never stopped addressing me as ‘Señora (Mrs.)’” For Francis, mercy always involves treating others respectfully, in such a way that they emerge from an encounter with us feeling their own dignity, even if they receive from us resources to which they lacked access.
We see this same kind of mercy in Jesus’s cure of the two blind men in the Gospel today. Jesus is not interested in simply curing these men, but he desires that they participate in their own cure. The cure isn’t something to be simply done for them, as if they were only passive recipients, but they need to feel themselves active in their own cure. And so he elicits their faith from the start, “Do you believe that I can do this?” They say yes, and as if to diminish further his own role in the cure and accentuate their role, he says, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” Even after the healing, Jesus shows that they were the center of what he did and that his own self-aggrandizement was not at all part of his motivation for curing them. He warns them, “See that no one knows about this.”
The first reading, too, reiterates this theme. The God of Isaiah is fully committed to justice, to curing the deaf and the blind, to exalting the lowly, and to undermining tyranny and those who leave the just person without a claim. But God is also always and fully committed to taking away shame. “Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of, nor shall his face go pale.” Whenever anyone leaves the encounter with God’s mercy, God seeks to ensure that they do so with pride in themselves.And so whatever mercy and healing we may experience from God this advent, God certainly hopes that we will not finally find ourselves recriminating ourselves, fearful of the future, or cowering before God. Rather it is God’s deepest desire that we experiencing ourselves blossoming like an orchard, leaving behind gloom and darkness, finding joy in the Lord, rejoicing, and full of awe at God’s love for us. Similarly in whatever we do for others, teaching, healing, researching, or serving those in or outside the University, God desires that those who receive what we give will feel themselves respected, confident in their own abilities and strength, and rejoicing in who God is and they are. It is important to give to others, but even more important that they feel themselves full of self-worth, with the dignity of a Señora.
Fr. Michael Barber, SJ is former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor in the Philosophy Department.