Category Archives: Spirituality Images

Meaning and Mercy

The first time I saw this picture, I found it repulsive and bleak.  The colors are dark; the figures a bit depressing.  This painting is the work of Sieger Köder, a German priest and artist and World War II survivor.  I was given a card with this painting on it, and upon receiving it shoved it in the bottom of a box.   As time went on however, I felt called to return to the picture, and found God had unlocked some of its meaning for me, and was calling me to live and minister to others through the truth that this artwork expresses.  I taught an Apologetics class to Seniors this past year and had the students compare this artwork with Edward Munch’s “The Scream.”  It was a powerful reflection on MEANING.  At the end I revealed to them the inspirational text for the picture.  It is included here:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.  While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.  The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.  Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.‘ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”    Matthew 9:9-13 (USCCB NAB Online Bible) See also Mark 2:14-17

What I love about this picture is the perspective of the viewer.  You, the viewer, sit in the place of Jesus at this table.  Notice his hands, open, breaking bread for the guests.  All but one of the people at the table looks to the place of Christ, in EXPECTATION.  I like to imagine that this scene is the reaction of the people after hearing the interaction of Jesus with the Pharisees.  What they seek, what they want to know, is if what they have heard is the TRUTH.  Are these just nice words that Christ speaks?  Or is this the truth about their individual persons, the truth about their profound value and meaning?

This is what the world seeks from the Christian today.  In a world spinning out of control, losing its focus and foundation, people seek MEANING.  They want to believe that their life means something, and they seek to see in the Christian evidence of the Gospel message being operative.  We sit in the place of Christ at this table because we are His hands and feet.  And I am called to make manifest to the person seeking to know their dignity and meaning the profound worth they have before God.  People expect to see that the Gospel message makes a difference in my life, your life.  Or are we frauds like the Pharisees?

And how will we convince those who seek the truth of the Gospel message?  By living the message of Matthew Chapter 9: “I desire MERCY, not sacrifice.”  They want to see a person who not only knows the words of Scripture, but has experienced the MERCY OF GOD.  We, as witnesses to Christ in the world, are to live from that Mercy, and then share it with others.

How will I know that Mercy?  By being aware of my brokenness.  This is the way I become aware of the great need for MERCY.  When I am profoundly aware of the Mercy that has been given me, I can then share that same Mercy with others.

I am reminded of the popular Pope Paul VI quote, “If you want peace, work for justice.”  I would finish that quote with the following, “And if you want justice, You practice MERCY!”  For if no one is willing to be merciful, justice will never have a chance to flourish.

The Broken Heart of Jesus

“The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil.  Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force.  He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love. The day of vindication and the year of favor meet in the Paschal Mystery, in Christ died and risen. This is the vindication of God: he himself, in the person of the Son, suffers for us. The more we are touched by the mercy of the Lord, the more we draw closer in solidarity with his suffering – and become willing to bear in our flesh “what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1: 24).”

Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Homily, Mass for the Election of the Pope, 4/18/05

This is the REASON and FOUNDATION for our DIGNITY as human persons!!

Brokenness

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Broken by man’s cruelty, yet symbol of Love’s triumph!” (alternate prayer from the Feast of the Sacred Heart)  This is what His Heart shows: that LOVE conquers by embracing brokenness, making sin and cruelty the way to unleash His LOVE.

For me, this image is the symbol that gives me HOPE.  I, like Jesus is in this image, am BROKEN.  Yet it is in this brokenness that God desires to make His Merciful Love known.  The brokenness of my life cannot be removed or erased, only healed.  But God wills something even more powerful: to heal me, and then make this brokenness the channel through which His Love can reach others!  He wills to purify the wounds of my brokenness so that His love can be given through me to others.  What better way to thwart evil than to take the effects of sin and its resulting brokenness and make it a source of grace!

So it is in brokenness that God chooses to make His Merciful Love Visible.  It is in the brokenness of the pierced side of Christ that God chooses to unleash the power of His grace.  And when we surrender our brokenness to God and allow Him to heal it and transform it, then our lives can become a channel of that same mercy and grace.

So often we FEAR brokenness: our own and others’.  We try to protect ourselves from being “exposed,” so that people won’t discover just how awful we really are.  We avoid people who make us “uncomfortable,” with the source of this discomfort usually being something that is strange or “not normal” about them – a type of brokenness that threatens our position of safety.   When there is a fear of brokenness, one can never really draw close to another person for fear of discovering that they are not perfect.  Hence, you can never truly love.  That is the great irony of life: we often choose to live in avoidance of the broken and those who might expose the failings that we have.  But then who is the loser?  It is the sad fact that the “strong” are those who lose out because they refuse to take the risk to be vulnerable and LOVE.