Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Mercy in the City

Jesus told his disciples to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison, and provide comfort to those who need it. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, easier said than done is what I say!

Her book basically focuses on the Corporal Works of Mercy which we find in Matthew chapter 25. Even after many years of preaching and teaching on this text it's much easier to love "humanity" in general but hate ones neighbor. It's easy to "love the world" but hate your wife or husband. Jesus didn't love in general, he loved persons: the Samaritan woman, the ten lepers, the man born blind, the paralytic, the woman with the flow of blood, as well as Peter, James, John, and the rest of the twelve. He loved individual people with their individual pains, problems, warts, and wrinkles. He loved both Jew and Gentile, both poor and rich, both married and single. When reading the gospels I often wonder, "how did Jesus love all of those people I know I can't. I try but it's not easy." 

In her new book, Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job (Loyola Press, 2014) Kerry Weber tries to unpack Matthew 25 in a way that we can all follow Jesus each and every day and as the subtitle says "keep your day job." 

Most folks think that priests or members of religious orders are called to ministry and service. What a bunch of baloney! By virtue of our baptism we are all called to serve the "least of these" as Jesus says. Weber, an editor at America Magazine set out one Lent to try to actually live according to Jesus' injunction in Matthew 25. Mercy in the City is her account of how she managed to seek perfection through loving ones neighbor yet doing it in fits and starts. 

Weber shows us how hard it is to see Christ in other people one day as she passed by a homeless man every day only to find that he shows up at the shelter one evening where she'd volunteer to work. She realizes then how she was like the Rich Man in the Rich Man and Lazarus story in Luke. She learns that this man has a name and that he actually knows Weber's boss at America. Talk about getting a dose of humility! There is a funny passage where she has to serve sandwiches in a morning breadline only to find out that even homeless people fight and argue over a sandwich and a cup of coffee. 

Mercy in the City is part memoir and part spiritual journey. The chapters are very short and one could read the entire book in a long afternoon. However, the one drawback from the book is that I was wanting more. Weber is such a good writer with great material. I found the chapters were almost like sketches rather than full blown chapters. I wanted to see more of the folks whom she met as well as how she changed through the process. You get glimpses of this throughout the book but I was hoping to have more of Weber's only spiritual journey on the page. I wanted to read more about her struggles trying to love her neighbors, more stories about the real inner struggle when one is conflicted to love those whom don't love you back. 

This being said Mercy in the City is a good read if you are looking for some insight into how you too, like Kerry, can follow Jesus in the 21st century without going to seminary, without necessarily studying theology, and as she says, not leave your day job. 

For more information about Mercy in the City click here