April 2, 2020

God’s Mercy and Our Lack Thereof (Trinity 13)

In Bach’s day, the readings for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity included Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. The cantata he wrote for that day in his third cycle of cantatas (Aug, 1725), uses a powerful text on the Gospel written by Salomo Franck. It powerfully contrasts God’s mercy and our lack thereof in caring for those in need around us.

Conductor John Eliot Gardiner comments on this cantata, “Ihr, die ihr euch von Christo nennet” — “You who bear the name of Christ” (BMV 164):

Bach saw the exposition of scripture as the main meditative goal of his church music, in particular the need to forge audible links in the listener’s mind between the ‘historical’ (‘what [is] written in the book of the law’) and spiritual attributes of the texts to be set. Here, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, he is faced with a Gospel (Luke 10:23-37) centred on the parable of the Good Samaritan which stresses man’s slipperiness in evading his responsibilities to his neighbour, and an Epistle (Galatians 3:15-22) in which Paul probes the distinction between faith and the law.

…With no opening chorus, some commentators are disturbed by the apparent discrepancy, in the tenor aria with strings (No.1), between words which fulminate against un-Samaritan-like indifference to one’s neighbour’s plight and the easy pastoral 9/8 flow of the canonic melody. But isn’t that precisely Bach’s point here: to contrast true mercy – God’s mercy – with its human counterfeit…?

I offer this today, not so much as an example of Bach’s music, but as a powerful text for our contemplation.

How can we, who have been shown such mercy and grace in our hopeless condition, not show the same compassion for our neighbors who cry in pain around us?

• • •

You, who call yourselves of Christ, where is your mercy,
by which one recognizes Christ’s members?
It is, alas, all too far from you.
Your hearts should be rich with love,
yet they are harder than a stone.

We hear, indeed, what Love itself says:
Whoever embraces his neighbor with mercy,
shall receive mercy as his judgment.
However, we heed this not at all!
Still our neighbor’s sighs can be heard!
He knocks at our heart; it is not opened!
We observe him, indeed, wringing his hands,
his eyes, flowing with tears;
yet our heart resists the urge to love.
The priest and Levite, that walk to one side,
are truly a picture of loveless Christians;
they behave as if they knew nothing of another’s misery,
they pour neither oil nor wine upon their neighbors wounds.

Only through love and through mercy will we become like God himself.
Hearts like the Samaritan’s are moved to pain by another’s suffering
and are rich in compassion.

Ah, through Your love’s radiance melt the cold steel of my heart,
so that true Christian love, My Savior, I might daily practice,
that my neighbor’s anguish, be he whoever he is,
friend or foe, heathen or Christian,
would cut to my heart always as my own sorrow!
May my heart be loving, gentle and tender;
thus shall Your image be revealed in me.

To hands that do not close will heaven be opened.
Eyes that flow with pity behold the Savior with grace.
To hearts that strive for love, God will give His own heart.

Kill us through your goodness, wake us through your grace!
Sicken the old being, so that the new may live
even here on this earth, having his mind
all desires and thoughts for You.

 

Author: Salomo Franck (mov’ts. 1-5), “Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn,” verse 5: Elisabeth Kreuziger 1524 (mov’t. 6)
Translation at Emmanuel Music

Comments

  1. “How can we, who have been shown such mercy and grace in our hopeless condition, not show the same compassion for our neighbors who cry in pain around us?”

    Good question. Is it because we don’t really understand what we’ve been given, or merely presume to have something we’ve never received? Clearly, Franck got it….and had it.

  2. We hear, indeed, what Love itself says:
    Whoever embraces his neighbor with mercy,
    shall receive mercy as his judgment.
    “However, we heed this not at all!
    Still our neighbor’s sighs can be heard!
    He knocks at our heart; it is not opened!
    We observe him, indeed, wringing his hands,
    his eyes, flowing with tears;
    yet our heart resists the urge to love.
    The priest and Levite, that walk to one side,
    are truly a picture of loveless Christians;
    they behave as if they knew nothing of another’s misery,
    they pour neither oil nor wine upon their neighbors wounds.”

    Amazing, convicting words…

  3. “Only through love and through mercy will we become like God himself.”

    “Kill us through your goodness, wake us through your grace!
    Sicken the old being, so that the new may live
    even here on this earth, having his mind
    all desires and thoughts for You.”

    I remember years back, when a few stuck a bumper sticker on their cars: He who dies with the most toys wins. It always made me cringe when I would see one.

    Not one for putting fish or bumper stickers on my car, because then I would have to (always) drive like a Christian. I wanted to paste this thought on my car: He who lives and dies with the most compassion wins!

    However, I am needing God to kill me with His goodness, and wake me with His grace, sicken my old being til I can live that truth… In my heart of hearts: I know that compassion & mercy rule, for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love, but He is still working all that out in my petty heart.

  4. from St. Ambrose, this:

    “For he who endeavours to amend the faults of human weakness ought to bear this very weakness on his own shoulders, let it weigh upon himself, not cast it off. For we read that the Shepherd in the Gospel Luke 15:5 carried the weary sheep, and did not cast it off. And Solomon says: “Be not overmuch righteous;” Ecclesiastes 7:17 for restraint should temper righteousness. For how shall he offer himself to you for healing whom you despise, who thinks that he will be an object of contempt, not of compassion, to his physician?
    Therefore had the Lord Jesus compassion upon us in order to call us to Himself, not frighten us away. He came in meekness, He came in humility, and so He said: “Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Matthew 11:28 So, then, the Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off, and fitly chose such disciples as should be interpreters of the Lord’s will, as should gather together and not drive away the people of God. Whence it is clear that they are not to be counted among the disciples of Christ, who think that harsh and proud opinions should be followed rather than such as are gentle and meek; persons who, while they themselves seek God’s mercy, deny it to others,”