I was in downtown Seattle, walking towards the ferry that would take me home, when a woman full of anger accosted me, asking for money. I truthfully said that I had no cash on me, and apologized.
“So what?” she responded. “There’s an ATM on the next block. You could take me there, take out some money, and I could have food today. But you won’t.”
And I knew she was right. I felt shame and shock rising in me. Flustered, and again truthful, I explained that I was a grad student and didn’t have much money to spare. I apologized and started walking away. Her shouts followed me across the street. I spent that ferry ride in tears. I cried that I hadn’t found a way to help, that she should have to suffer and beg, and that so many more had to as well.
I prayed one of the Episcopal church’s prayers of confession: “Most Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself….” As I prayed, I felt God’s forgiveness and compassion overshadow my shame; I felt anger at injustice, and sadness for the suffering of others. I felt the conviction to do better quicken my heart. “Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God,” says the prophet Joel (2:13). And God’s Spirit will show us what to do.
In today’s passage, Jesus tells the synagogue crowd what God’s Spirit has sent him to do. Since they don’t understand what his message means, they focus on his gracious delivery. What would it take for them to open their hearts and realize what God wants them to know?
When has your heart been broken so that you sought God’s forgiveness? How did that experience change you? When have you missed God’s message?
Merciful God, show us where we miss the mark and fall short of loving our neighbors as ourselves. Help us rend our hearts and embrace your compassion. Amen.