These beautiful words from the prophet Micah are not in today’s readings, but they are the essence of the message of today’s readings. We are brought back this Sunday to this most fundamental of Judeo-Christian teachings: we are called to imitate the God who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry, who sets prisoners free, who opens the eyes of the blind, who lifts up those who are bowed down,… who watches over the strangers, who upholds the orphan and the widow…” Ps 146 (today’s psalm). To imitate God is to do the things he does, the things he would do if he were in our shoes.
What strikes me personally is that the call to extend mercy to every manner of poverty is not an innovation of the New Testament. It is one of the earliest and most forceful teachings of the earliest prophets. Micah, like Amos, who is at the origin of today’s first reading, was active in the eighth century BC. And the same call to mercy for the poor of every description rings out through all the prophetic literature, right down to the time of Christ. I find it beautiful that in today’s parable from the gospel of Luke, when the rich man in Hades asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to warn his brothers, still living, to be good to the poor, Abraham’s answer to him is: “They have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them.”
So we can’t plead ignorance. We also have Moses and the prophets, in addition to the confirmation by Jesus – in words and deeds – of this call to imitate the mercy of God toward the poor. We have the confirmation of the other New Testament writings, and of the Church Fathers in the first centuries, who spoke very strongly about the imperative of giving to the poor. Several wrote that the goods which we possess in excess of what we need actually belong by right to the poor. That is very powerful stuff.
We don’t all have a lot of supplementary wealth. A lot of us have a hard time being able to afford simply living in Vancouver. But we all have the potential to exercise mercy and compassion toward some category of poverty, howsoever humble our potential may be. By the grace of God, may we not “miss the boat” of compassion and mercy. It is at the heart of what it is to be Christian. By the grace of God, may it be a hallmark of our families’ lives, and of our life as Church. And thanks be to God for what is already happening in this regard in our parish. Thanks be to God for our St. Vincent de Paul Conference, thanks be to God for Migrant Ministry, for Street Ministry, and for any other ministry of mercy that we engage in, and that escapes me right now.