15 February 2017

A Massage, Please Lord.



Today's Readings:


Looking up the man replied, "I see people looking like trees and walking."Then he laid hands on the man's eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly.
Mark 8:24-25

Once a preacher described this as Jesus committing malpractice. Of course she didn't actually believe this had happened anyway: Jesus was just a good teacher and all this was just mythology. There were lots of wonky stuff in her preaching. But that phrase stuck with me for a long time: what is going on here?

What's going on here is a miracle that only we can see, with all of our knowledge. A man born blind has no way to connect what he is seeing to words in his head. We know this now - the difference between etic and emic reality means that, in a very real way, our words shape our brain's experience and understanding of that experience. Jesus - and the Gospel - are showing us something only moderns can understand to help us know Jesus is God. Jesus not only must heal the organ of sight, but the mind, too, must be set aright.

Today when we perform the sacrament of healing we don't us spittle, but rather holy oil. We anoint the sick with oil that has been blessed by God in the rites of the Church. And oil is the Mercy of God in symbol.

In the rites of the Church, East and West, we very commonly say, "Lord, have mercy" or, in Greek or Latin, Kyrie Eleison. To our modern minds, for some reason, that has come to mean "stop beating me up" or "please stop hurting me." We think of a slave being whipped and crying out for mercy. So we project this mistaken image on God: of someone beating us, whom we began for mercy. God's going to throw us all into hell unless we began his mercy.

That word, Eleison, translated "mercy" or "have mercy" has such a deep meaning and has so much more to say to us than just "stop hurting me".
The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for 'Lord, have mercy,' are 'Kyrie, eleison'  that is to say, 'Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.' Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal  a very Western interpretation  but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray 'Lord, have mercy,' with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.
See the whole article on Mercy here.

The traditional Greek East slam on the Latin West aside it is important to note that the Latin Mass does not use Miserere Nobis - Latin for "Have Mercy on us" - but rather the Greek Eleison when we say, Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison. The same word is used in Holy Week, the only time the Western Church traditionally prays "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One: Have mercy on us." The Traditional liturgy sings that in both Greek and Latin. It is as if the Latin Church is saying, "Forget what you used to think about miserere and let it mean eleison now." Lord, soothe us, comfort us, take away our pain - give us a massage. Rub it in, good and deep.

This is the mercy of God for which we pray. With it, God can heal not only our bodies, but also - as with the man born blind - our mind, even our souls. We can be made whole again. Kyrie Eleison.