Todays readings highlight two important attributes of God. In Hebrew those words are Tzedekah and Chessed.
Tzedekah is translated as justice or righteousness, it is providing for those in need.
Gods’ nature is tzedekah, he is not indifferent to the marginalized, oppressed, or the excluded. Rather we see God as the defender of the widow, the orphan and the oppressed.
A second attribute highlighted is Chessed, which tells of God steadfast love and mercy. It is not an emotion but God’s nature. God is Chessed, God is love and mercy. Every act of God towards humanity is Chessed. These are the most used words in the Hebrew scriptures. They tell us about God’s nature.
As we look at God’s attributes of Tzedekah and Chessed we acknowledge that God calls us to be an extension of those attributes. In other words, God is asking us to take action, to be God’s Tzedekah and Chessed in our world today.
These attributes of love, mercy, and justice are clearly visible in the first reading and the psalm. God hears the cry of the poor and the oppressed and responds to those needs.
In the second reading Paul, who lives as an extension of God’s Tzedekah and Chessed says that he has made it to the end and ask for strength.
The gospel reading reminds us to live those attributes with humility.
As we better understand these attributes that are God’s nature we better understand what God is calling us to be.
We must be like Paul and ask for the strength to continue to perform this duty so that through our hands and feet, the steadfast love mercy and justice of God is experienced by those most in need today.
Isn’t that amazing? God invites us to help incarnate his love mercy and justice in this world.
Todays readings instruct us to focus on the cry of the poor. God by his very nature cannot be indifferent to the cries and sufferings of his children.
It is like watching the response of a new mother who hears her baby cry and feels a pain in her heart, a pain that moves her to immediate action and her natural, response is to quickly assess the needs of her child and alleviate the reason for those cries.
And even as that child grows into a toddler, teenager or a full grown adult, his or her cries inspire a shared hurt and pain. A mother’s love is like Gods love and cannot be indifferent to the cries of her child.
Can you imagine God who hears the cries coming from poor, the suffering and the marginalized in our world today, and God as a mother calling us to quick action to alleviate the reason for those cries?
The readings invite us to view the current situation in our world not just from a distance, through a new story or a newspaper article, but from a real-life perspective from a face-to-face interaction – from a place that allows us to hear the cry of the poor
Our greatest challenge today is that we live fast paced lives that follow a certain direction, we are comfortable and don’t want to be disturbed from our regular routine.
We run the risk of getting so caught up in our life that we can no longer hear the cry of the poor. One of the great crises today is that we don’t help the poor, marginalized. We can indifferent to their suffering
Are your ears attuned to the cry of the poor? Can you recognize what those cries sound like?
There is a story of a Native American woman who visited New City to give a presentation at the UN. She had a host Liz, who wanted to share with her some new York city landmarks so she took her to Times square to experience the energy, thousands of people, the lights from the billboards and sparkle of the diamond dust in the sidewalk. And as they walked around Time Square, Alina was impressed by all the hustle and bustle of the city. As she sat there soaking in the experience she turned to Liz and said “I hear a cricket.” Liz was a little confused and looked upward at the billboards for an advertisement that might contain the sound of the cricket
An by the time she brought her eyes back to the ground she saw Alina crouched over behind the coffee cart waving Liz to come over. So, Liz went over and all of a sudden she could hear the chirp of the cricket. And the two of them sat in awe of the cricket that chirped on the corner of 44th and Broadway.
Liz turned to and asked Alina, “how did you hear that?” in the middle of the noise from the traffic, people talking, walking and their cell phones, how did you hear the cricket?
She responded saying, my ears are attuned to nature and that’s what hear. There may be noises and other distractions in our world but our ears listen for the things that we care about
Our ears listen for the things we care about.
Do you know what cries of the poor sound like?
Not from a distance where we can read about it on our phone and then flip it over and forget.
Can you identify the cries of the poor in real life, in your hometown, your workplace, your environment?
The poor, the marginalized, the excluded, and the suffering are crying, and God is calling us to action, to be God’s Tzedeka and Chessed, steadfast love and justice.
In order to hear the cry of the poor, you need to interact with the poor, to listen to their stories and allow those interactions move you to action.
We need to critically ask what our ears are attuned to hear.
In the past couple of years here in El Paso, Texas we have heard the cry of the Central American refugees seeking asylum. After being processed, given a scheduled court date and an ankle monitor, the refugees and their family members were released to numerous shelters across the city. It was an opportunity to open our doors and provide hospitality to Jesus in our midst who in the form of our brothers and sisters is fleeing the violence and dangers of their home countries. Our Arts, Cultural and Faith Formation center for youth was turned into an emergency shelter and we had over 5,000 people come through our doors.
We heard the cries of the poor and the stories are heartbreaking: Parents telling of their personal experience of violence, threats and murder and the decision to flee their home, culture, and their families in order to protect their children.
The majority of the refugees did not want to leave their home but had to make the journey to give their child a chance at surviving. As the refugees came daily to our door, we had the opportunity to better understand God’s Tzedekah and Chessed and it grew in the hearts of all the people in our building. It didn’t matter where you were born. The volunteers and the guests shared and lived God’s love, mercy and justice.
Tzedeka is not justice the way we understand it today, it is providing support and the voice for those in need, not out of charity but from our religious obligation to be an extension of God.
Chessed is God’s steadfast love, it is an interpersonal relationship. It is not just a feeling of good will but a practical action on behalf f of the other.
Today, I invite you to reflect on God as Tzedekah and Chessed, God as love mercy and justice. Then seek a face to face opportunity to hear the cry of the poor, step out of your comfort zone this week, and seek marginalized and oppressed people and listen to their story. Like St. Paul, pray for strength to be an extension of God.
God is Tzedekah and Chessed, may we be an extension of his love, mercy and justice.
Verónica Rayas, Ph.D., is the director of the Office of Religious Education in the Diocese of El Paso. She holds a Ph.D. from Fordham University in religious education. Her doctoral thesis, entitled “The Family’s Catechesis: The Mexican American Family as a Place of Catechesis Through Their Spirituality,” focused on the catechetical principles present in the traditions and life of faith of many Mexican American families. Verónica has extensive experience in various ministries such as catechist, youth ministry, Catholic school teacher, and pastoral associate.
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