And it will come about that every living creature
which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live…
and will grow all kinds of trees for food…
whose fruit will be for food and whose leaves for healing.
Ez 47: 9
In today’s Gospel Jesus is persecuted for healing on the Sabbath. He encounters a man suffering from a lifetime of crippling infirmary and tells him to take up his mat and walk. A miracle by anyone’s standards! However, people don’t see the miracle but only the breaking of the Sabbath laws. And when they learn it was Jesus who did the healing, they persecute him, seeing not mercy but only violation.
John tells us people were threatened by this itinerant rabbi, this healer. I suspect it was not the mercy that scared them, nor the recipient of the mercy. It was, perhaps, not even of the breaking of the Sabbath. What was scary, then as now, was what this act of mercy would demand of them.
And so we return to the first reading from Ezekiel and his powerful metaphor: the life-giving power of mercy that flows like a great river in whose presence people are healed and fed. Can this be our invitation to let mercy flow like a river with all that demands of us? Small actions, at first, and then greater ones as we offer food and healing?
Do we have the courage, even in the face of attacks, to move from legalistic responses to merciful ones for the sake of God’s suffering children? Can we offer mercy to those whose fear calls them to place regulations above mercy? Can we rest in the sure knowledge that “where these waters flow, they refresh every living thing”?
Dr. Marti R. Jewell is an Associate Professor Emerita of pastoral theology. She does research, training, and writing in the areas of ministry and pastoral leadership.