The Gospel for the fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Be ye merciful, which is divided into four clauses.
(First, a sermon for the preacher or prelate of the Church: David, sitting in the chair.)
1. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful. [Luke 6.36]
It says in the second book of Kings, towards the end:
David, sitting in the chair, the wisest chief among three, was like the most tender little worm of the wood; who killed eight hundred men at one onset. [2Kg(Sm) 23.8]
David represents the preacher, who should ‘sit in the chair, etc’. Take note of all the words. The ‘chair’ signifies humility of mind; ‘wisest’ implies clearness; the ‘chief’ is constancy; the ‘three’ are life, learning and eloquence; the ‘wood’ is the hard-heartedness of the wicked; ‘most tender’ indicates mercy and patience; and the ‘little worm’ is severe discipline. Thus the preacher must sit in the chair of humility, taught by the example of Jesus Christ, who humbled the glory of his divinity in the chair of our humanity. He should be ‘wisest’, savoring the charity which alone tastes how sweet the Lord is [cf. Ps 33.9]. He should be ‘chief’ in constancy of mind, so that like the lion, mightiest of beasts, he may fear the attack of none. He is ‘among three’, his life, learning and eloquence. He should also be the ‘most tender little worm of the wood’: a little worm that pierces and gnaws away the wood of the hard and unfruitful; ‘tender’, that is, patient and merciful towards the humble and contrite. Alternatively, just as there is nothing harder than a worm when it gnaws, but nothing softer when it is handled, so the preacher who sets forth the word of God should strike the hearts of his hearers hard; but if he is struck by insults, he should be gentle and friendly. This explains the phrase that follows, who killed eight hundred at one onset. It says, ‘one onset’, on account of some people who, when they have killed pride, nurture a raging belly. The ‘eight hundred’ are the carnal and spiritual vices. The preacher should kill them all in himself, so as to perform works of mercy towards himself, and then towards others. That is why today’s Gospel says, Be merciful, etc.
2. There are four things to notice in this Gospel. The first is the mercy of God, where it begins:
Be merciful. Second is the measure of eternal glory: Good measure. Third is the fall of the blind men into the ditch: And he spoke also to them a similitude. Fourth, the mote in the brother’s eye: Why seest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye? We will concord with these clauses some stories from the second book of Kings.
In the Introit of today’s Mass we sing: The Lord is my light; and we read the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans: I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy; which we will divide into four parts and concord with the four clauses of the Gospel. The first part is: I reckon; the second: For the expectation of the creature; the third: We know; the fourth: Not only, etc.
(A sermon on the threefold mercy of God and man: Be merciful.)
3. Let us say, then:
Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not; and you shall not be judged. Condemn not; and you shall not be condemned. Forgive; and you shall be forgiven. Give; and it shall be given to you. [Lk 6.36-38]
In this first clause of the holy Gospel there are five things for us to notice especially: to be merciful, to judge not, to condemn not, to forgive, and to give. We will concord these five with five stories from the second book of Kings.
“Merciful” means having compassion on the miseries of others. “Mercy” moves the heart with sorrow for the sorrow of another. In God, though, there is mercy without sorrow of heart: his pity is shown in merciful deeds. That is why the Lord says: Be merciful. And note: just as the heavenly Father’s mercy towards you is three-fold, so yours should be three-fold towards your neighbor.
The Father’s mercy is beautiful, broad and precious. It is beautiful, since it cleanses from vice: as Ecclesiasticus says:
The mercy of God is beautiful in the time of affliction, as a cloud of rain in the time of drought. [Ecclus 35.26]
In the time of affliction, when the soul is afflicted for her sins, the rain of grace pours down to refresh the soul and forgive sin. It is broad, because as time goes by it expands in good works; as the Psalm says:
For thy mercy is before my eyes: and I am well pleased with thy truth, [Ps 25.3]
because I am displeased with my own sin. It is precious, in the delight of eternal life of which Anna [sic: he means Sara] speaks in Tobias: This everyone is sure of that worshippeth thee, etc. [Tob 3.21]. See in the Gospel: No man can serve two masters [Pentecost XV, clause 2]. Of these three Isaiah says:
I will remember the tender mercies of the Lord, the praise of the Lord for all the things that the Lord hath bestowed upon us: and for the multitude of his good things to the house of Israel, which he hath given them according to his kindness, and according to the multitude of his mercies. [Is 63.7]
Your mercy, too, should be three-fold towards your neighbor. If he sins against you, forgive him. If he strays from the way of truth, instruct him. If he is hungry, feed him. Of the first, Solomon says in Proverbs:
By faith and mercy sins are purged away. [Prov 15.27]
Of the second, James says:
He who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way shall save his soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins. [Jas 5.20]
Of the third, the Psalm says:
Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor. [Ps 40.2]
So it is well said: Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.
(On the nature of cranes and their significance.)
4. There is a concordance to this in the second book of Kings, where David says to Mephiboseth:
Fear not, for I will surely show thee mercy for Jonathan thy father’s sake; and I will restore the lands of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table always. [2Kg(Sm) 9.7]
In this text the three-fold mercy towards neighbor is portrayed; the first, when it says, I will surely show thee mercy for Jonathan’s sake, that is, for Jesus Christ who said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do [Lk 23.34]. You should show mercy to the one who offends you both in heart and in word, forgiving him with heart and voice. The second mercy is when it says, I will restore all the lands of Saul thy father. The land, which a man works on, represents the grace bestowed in Baptism, which we should so receive as to make it fruitful in good works. When Saul (the soul anointed with the oil of faith) died, all he owned was lost. When you cause someone to be converted from the error of his way, you restore that land to him. The third mercy is, And thou shalt eat bread at my table always. So Solomon says:
If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink. [Prov 25.21]
So it is well said: Be merciful.
So let us be merciful, in imitation of the cranes, of which it is said that when they seek to fly to any destination, they fly high, so that from their exalted viewpoint they may find the lands they seek. One, resolute in going, leads the flock; and as he goes he chides the laggards, urging on the line with his voice. If he grows hoarse, another takes over. All of them together take care of the weary, so that if any flag, they all come together to support those who are tired, until with rest they regain their strength. Nor is their care any less on the ground. They divide the night into watches, so that one tenth are awake at any time. Those that watch hold small stones in their claws, so that if they drop them they show they have been asleep. The noise indicates that they should be careful. They flee from bats. Let us then be merciful like cranes, so that being set on the watchtower of an exalted life, we may look out for ourselves and for other people. Let us show the proper way to those who do not know it. Let us chide the lazy and lukewarm with the voice of preaching. Let us take turns in our work, because he who lacks a time of rest will not stay the course. Let us carry the weak and feeble on our shoulders, so that they do not faint in the way. Let us keep watch and vigil for the Lord in prayer and contemplation. Let us grasp the Lord’s poverty, humility and bitter Passion, as in our claws; and if anything unclean tries to creep in, let us cry out at once. Above all, let us flee the blind bat of worldly vanity.
(A sermon against those who rashly judge hidden things: Oza put forth his hand.)
5. There follows, secondly, Judge not; and you will not be judged. The Gloss says, “We are allowed to pass judgment on public evils, which cannot be done with a good conscience. There are things in between, uncertain, which may be done honestly, because they may be done either well or badly. We do not know how someone who now appears bad, and it would be rash to despair of his correction or dismiss him as a castaway.” Judge not; and you will not be judged.
There is a concordance to this in the second book of Kings, where it tells how
Oza put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it: because the oxen kicked and made it lean aside. And the indignation of the Lord was enkindled against Oza: and he struck him for his rashness. And he died there before the ark of God. [2Kg(Sm) 6.6-7]
The ark is the soul, and the oxen are the bodily senses. Oza (his name means ‘hard’) is anyone who is confident in his own rightness, and criticizes other people. When the oxen get skittish – that is, when the bodily senses get troublesome and contrary – the soul is sometimes inclined to give way to something wrong. If a judgmental person tries to take hold with the rash hand of criticism, he should realize that he himself incurs the judgment of the Lord, who said, Judge not; and you will not be judged. The Philosopher says: “Look to your own faults, and spare other people’s.”
(A sermon against those who rejoice over the fate or death of an enemy: David went up into the high chamber and wept.)
6. There follows thirdly, Condemn not; and you will not be condemned. There is a concordance in the second book of Kings, where David would not condemn Absalom, who wanted to condemn him.
He commanded Joab and Abisai and Ethai, saying: Save me the boy Absalom. [2Kg(Sm) 18.5]
When he was destroyed,
David, much moved, went up to the high chamber and wept. And as he went he spoke in this manner: My son Absalom, Absalom my son! Who would grant me, that I might die for thee, Absalom my son, my son Absalom! [2Kg(Sm) 18.33]
The death of an enemy is not something to rejoice over, but to mourn and weep for. So Christ went up to the high chamber of the Cross, there to weep for Adam and all his posterity, slain by Joab (the devil) with the three lances of greed, vainglory, and avarice; and he said: My son Adam! Who would grant me, that I might die for thee; that is, that my death might profit you. It is if he said, No-one was willing to let me die for him! He reckons it a great gift, if a sinner ‘grants’ that his death should profit him!
(A sermon for the formation of patience: Semei cursed the king, etc.)
7. There follows, fourthly, Forgive; and you will be forgiven. There is a concordance to this in the second book of Kings, where it says that Semei cursed David, saying:
Come out, come out, thou man of blood, and thou man of Belial. The Lord hath repaid thee for all the blood of the house of Saul: because thou hast usurped the kingdom in his stead. And the Lord hath given the kingdom into the hands of Absalom thy son: and behold, thy evils press upon thee, because thou art a man of blood. And Abisai the son of Sarvia said to the king: Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? I will go, and cut off his head. And the king said: What have I to do with you, ye sons of Sarvia? Let him alone and let him curse: for the Lord hath bid him curse David. And who is he that shall dare say: Why hath he done so? And the king said to Abisai, and to all his servants: Behold, my son, who came forth from my bowels, seeketh my life. How much more now a son of Jemini? Let him alone that he may curse as the Lord hath bidden him. Perhaps the Lord may look upon my affliction, and the Lord may render me good for the cursing of this day. And David and his men went by the way. And Semei by the hill’s side went over against him, cursing, and casting stones at him, and scattering earth. [2Kg(Sm) 16.7-13]
Saint Gregory says, “If anyone is the victim of insulting words, and is hard put to it to keep his patience, let him call to mind the behavior of David, when Semei was hurling abuse, and his armed officers were eager to take revenge. He said, What have I to do with you, sons of Sarvia? and a little later, Let him alone and let him curse as the Lord has commanded him. These words show that when he was forced to flee from his rebellious son because of his sin with Bethsabee, he recalled the evil he himself had done; and he reckoned the insulting words not as an attack, but as an aid whereby he judged he might be cleansed and find mercy. We too will find it a good thing to bear abuse, if in the secrecy of our hearts we recall the bad things we have done. The injuries that afflict us will then seem light indeed, compared with the worse things we have deserved. So let it be that we repay insults with thanks, rather than with anger; for by accepting them as the judgment of God, we are spared worse penalties.”
8. There follows, fifthly, Give; and it shall be given to you. There is a concordance to this in the second book of Kings where it says that
Machir, his son Ammihel, and Berzillai the Galaadite brought David beds, and tapestry, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched corn, and beans, and lentils, and fried pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and fat calves. [2Kg(Sm) 17.27-28]
There is your Give: let us hear the It shall be given:
King David said to Berzillai: Come with me that thou mayest rest secure with me in Jerusalem. [2Kg(Sm) 19.33]
Let us see the moral significance of this.
Machir means “seller”, Ammihel is “people of God”, Berzillai is “my strength” and Galaad is “mound of witness.” These three men stand for all penitents, who sell what they have and give to the poor; who are the people of God whom the Lord has chosen as his inheritance [cf. Ps32.12]; and who in the strength of good works overcome the assaults of the ancient enemy. In them is heaped up the witness of the Lord’s Passion. These give Christ beds for sleepers, the quiet of a pure conscience in which Christ rests with the soul; tapestries of different colors, the various virtues; earthen vessels, themselves, as they humble themselves and recognize that they are frail and made of clay; wheat, the teaching of the Gospel, and barley, the teaching of the Old Testament; meal, confession made of the tiniest circumstances of all their sins; the parched corn of patience, the beans of abstinence and the lentils of self-contempt; the fried pulse of compassion for others, the honey and butter of the active and contemplative life; the sheep of innocence and the fat calves of the mortification of pampered flesh. If you give these things, it shall be given to you to hear the true David say: Come with me that thou mayest rest secure with me in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Note these four expressions: come, rest, secure with me, in Jerusalem. These four correspond to the four things we sing of in the Introit of today’s Mass:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; [whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? My enemies that trouble me have themselves been weakened, and have fallen.] [Ps 26.1-2]
[The Lord is my light and my salvation] is concordant with the word Come; you cannot come rightly unless you have been enlightened. And my salvation is concordant with that thou mayest rest. Where there is salvation, there is rest. The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? is concordant with secure with me; and My enemies that trouble me have themselves been weakened, and have fallen, is concordant with in Jerusalem, wherein we shall not fear the enemies who now trouble us; they will fall into Gehenna, and we shall be in glory.
So the first part of the Epistle is concordant with this first clause of the Gospel:
For I reckon that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us. [Rom 8.18]
Because sufferings are temporary, they are not worthy to be compared. They are light and transitory. Suffering passes, but glory remains for ever and ever.
And so, that we may attain that glory, let us ask the Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful father, so to pour his mercy upon us, that we ourselves may have mercy upon ourselves and upon others; that we may judge no-one, condemn no-one, forgive everyone who sins against us and give what we have to everyone who asks of us. May he himself graciously grant this, who is blessed and glorious for ever and ever.