Mercy and the Seven Cow Woman

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; (Psalm 119)

Mercy is the stuff of life. You can live for eleven days without the regenerative endowments of sleep, but you can’t live one moment without mercy.

We are all given life, sustained in life, held together, glued to this cosmic spinning rock, by the merciful gaze of God.

Our souls flourish through the mercy of others. We grow only in so far as we show mercy to others. Without mercy we perish, long before any life-giving properties offered by any vision. Without showing mercy, others die to us, and to themselves.

Why do we suppose Jesus enjoined us to forgive others so that we may be forgiven? (Why do we think that these words refer to a spiritual balance sheet? We compulsively spiritualize blocks of scripture and then trip over the deeper truth they hold. The truth often being anthropological rather than theological.) Do we suppose that the forgiveness command is given so that it will please God when it is obeyed? Or do we suppose reciprocal mercy is asked for so that we humans can live, and grow and experience full life? Which truly pleases God.

Our world runs down because we fail to give and receive mercy. Without mercy, in the daily rough and tumble, how are we to value or honour each other the way we all want to be valued and honoured?

Years ago, my friend Mary told this story–a story from a different time. I recall it as follows:

An esteemed and wealthy man came to an island to find a bride. Custom required the man to assess the available women and offer the number of cows that the assessment determined. Thus, there were one, two, even three-cow women.

On the island lived a dowdy, inelegant, and self-conscious woman. The distinguished suitor astounded the father of the woman by offering seven cows for his daughter. He then left the island for the appropriate period of time to allow for a decision.

When he returned, the woman, his bride-to-be, was transformed. During his absence, the woman’s father, who had given up on her, began to treat her with respect. Those who knew the woman changed their minds about her and met her with new regard. And as the story got out, people in the community addressed her with the honour due a seven-cow-woman.

And she, in burgeoning response to this change in reception, straightened her back, lifted her eyes, and having regained her own latent beauty, became truly beautiful.

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