“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47). Is “pity” what we desire in our lives? Do you want to be pitied? When I ask people about the word “pity,” how we understand and use it, despite what the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, “pity” does not have a positive connotation in everyday usage. Pity is that thing that we shower upon the unfortunate, a distant regret for their plight, a thankful prayer that it is not us.
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The underlying word is eléos – I don’t know why they translate it as “pity” – the meaning is “to show mercy,” indicating a response stirred by an affliction in others. When they were translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek eléos is the word used for the Hebrew hesed – the mercy of God, divine mercy. Mercy/hesed/eléos is the cry of the poor, the suffering, the sorrowing, those losing hope, those burdened in life, and the broken.
10 Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am in distress; with grief my eyes are wasted, my soul and body spent. 11 My life is worn out by sorrow, my years by sighing. My strength fails in affliction; my bones are consumed. 12 To all my foes I am a thing of scorn, to my neighbors, a dreaded sight, a horror to my friends. When they see me in the street, they quickly shy away. 13 I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead; I am like a shattered dish. (Ps 31:10-13)
We shy away. We turn the other way. We talk to someone else instead. We play with another friend. We cross the street. We hang out with other friends. We let the call go to voicemail. We shy away. The one from whom we turn is forgotten, out of mind. Yet the cry for mercy lingers in our conscience, in our hearts.
Mercy is the cry for the vital aid needed to restore, heal, be forgiven, to persevere, and to hope. When the plea for mercy – in all its forms – falls on our ears, we are called to respond – in action when we can – but always to respond to the person. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
When a scholar of the Law asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus asks him what does the Law require. The scholar answers well: love God and our neighbor as ourselves – and then comes the moment when he falls prey to the letter of the Law and misses its spirit as he asks: “And who is my neighbor?” Where can I draw the line? Who must I include? This is when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story of the person who aids a wounded, robbed person he had never met when others turned the other way, cross the road, and passed by. Jesus asks the scholar, “36 Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” 37 He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise.
We will all have our day on the side of the road like Bartimaeus when we suffer our form of blindness, when we are reduced to our own form of begging on the roadside wondering how did it ever come to this. When the people around us are not just passively turning away, but actively seem to seek ways to ensure our voice is not heard. “And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have [mercy] on me.’”
Our voice is always heard. Just as Jesus calls to Bartimaeus, so too each one of us is called. Bartimaeus does not hesitate, he “sprang up” at Jesus’ call – and he found salvation, healing, and restoration. Then he followed Jesus “on the way.”
On the way of mercy, where Bartimaeus will be the Samaritan who hears the cry of the man just robbed. He can choose to pity the person with a distant regret for their plight or he can choose to “Be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful.”
Such is the call of divine mercy, divine compassion – and so are we called to not turn away, to pick up the call before it goes to voicemail, and even to cross the street to reach the one whose life pleads for mercy. We are called to be a source mercy that forgives – not because we are good, but because God is good; a mercy that loves – because God is good. We must trust that mercy is not a scarce resource, but a mercy that is infinite – a fountain fullness, overflowing of grace into our world, into our lives. Where do we start? We must first trust that God’s mercy is meant for us; that mercy that forgives, restores and loves. Some might immediately think “Oh, but I am not worthy!” No we are not.
And so before we approach the very seat of Mercy in the Eucharist, we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word…” The word has been already spoken. So come to receive the Eucharist – do not hesitate, spring up, find healing, forgiveness, love and salvation. Then go into the world to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Each day are called to that same task. In our lives and all around us we can hear the echo, “Jesus, son of David, have [mercy] on me.” May the grace of God’s mercy be upon us and may we give freely what we have received.