“We are beggars. This is true.” Martin Luther scratched- out those words on a scrap of paper just before his death on February 18, 1546. “We are beggars. This is true.”
Most of us aren’t like the beggars, the panhandlers, we will meet on the streets of downtown. We aren’t, as far as anyone can tell, as far down or as far out, as they are; we not on the bottom and the margin. In fact, when compared to them, we’re way up and way in. It has been a long time, if ever, since most of us were hungry and couldn’t figure-out where the next meal was coming from. We have, not just the clothes on our backs, but closets bulging with clothes we never wear. We’re connected, not marginalized; we have family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and classmates. We’re either taking care of ourselves or someone else is responsibly and reliably taking care of us. On the surface, most of us don’t seem like beggars.
Beneath the surface, though, in those places in our minds and hearts hidden from others and sometimes from ourselves, we’re beggars, too. Maybe we are, as Carlyle Marney once called us, “beggars in velvet,” but beggars nonetheless. We’re beggars especially for mercy. The characteristic prayer of Lent is our constant prayer: “Jesus, have mercy on me. Jesus, have mercy.”
We’re all amalgams of brokenness and wholeness, tragedy and triumph, despair and delight, grief and gladness. You know what causes you to cry bitter, hurting tears when no one is around. You know what inspires you to give thanks and to shout for joy. You know what drives you relentlessly through your days and nights, and what allows you to slow down, be still and know that God is God and you are not.
Your life may be full and rich and good, but there is in you something that makes you anxious or afraid or guilty or ashamed. It’s part of being human. Everyone struggles or suffers or worries over something, which means everyone needs mercy.
Jesus is God’s mercy in flesh and blood, muscle and bone, word and deed. Jesus is mercy made clear and brought near. As you know, the New Testament is written in Greek, but Aramaic was the language Jesus and his first followers spoke. In Aramaic, the word for mercy or compassion, comes from the same family of words as does the word womb. God’s mercy, Jesus says and shows, in womblike; it is mother-like. Mercy makes room in herself for the vulnerable, and shelters and protects them until they are strong enough to survive. Mercy bleeds and labors to give life and energy. Mercy cries aloud in pain and joy for the wonder of the children we always are and for the people we are always becoming. God’s mercy connects God to us as a mother is tied to her children: God feels along with us, weeps and laughs with us, crawls, walks, runs and dances along with us.
We live with two unconscious but always pressing questions: (1) Does anyone see me, hear me, and know me for who I am? (2) if someone sees me, hears me, and knows me, can he or she still love me?
Does anybody know me? Does the person who really knows me love me?
The mercy of God in Jesus answers those crucial questions with “yes.” In Jesus, God says: “I know you, completely. I love you without condition or reservation.”
It’s mercy we need, and mercy for which we beg. And mercy, sweet saving mercy, is what Jesus gives.