They shall perish, but you will endure;
they all shall wear out like a garment;
as clothing you will change them,
and they shall be changed;
~Psalm 102: 26
When I started college, one of the first friends I made came from our shared interest in the ElfQuest series. This was before the Internet, so finding people with shared interests was more a matter of luck than diligent searching. This friend introduced me to the idea of fan fiction: that people could like something so much it would inspire them to write their own stories set in the same world.
Some of the characters we were writing about were both artists as close to immortal as makes no never-mind. I became fascinated with the idea that they would outlive any artwork they made. More than that, that their subjective experience of time, might cause them to feel like a tapestry they spent years making turned to dust in the blink of an eye.
Would they go back an re-make a favorite piece that had been destroyed by time? Would their aesthetic have changed so much in the intervening decades that they would not be able to imagine re-creating something, even if it was beloved? Would they even miss something that had vanished while their attention was elsewhere?
At the time, I had a lot less life experience and a lot less knowledge about how fragile most art is. Thirty-years on, I have seen moths go through my closet and snack on handmade woolens, I have worn favorite socks until they can no longer be darned, and I have made garments that I have worn until trying to patch them leads to the results cited in the Gospel of Matthew that is part of today’s Daily Office:
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.” ~Matthew 9:16
Nothing tangible can endure in its original form forever, even million-year-old fossils are rock-shadows of more transient forms of life.
Like our garments, we will wear out in time. The things we make, the events we plan, the actions we take will all fade away from the world; sometimes before we ourselves do.
I wonder if that is the reason that in the same passage from Mathew that is cited above, Jesus says: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matt 9:13)
Sacrificing an object, an animal, or even some of my time to God may be seen as transactional and short term. In this moment, I do X in exhange for Y. The relationship does not have to persist past the moment of sacrifice. Both sacrifice and relationship are transitory and temporary.
When Jesus calls for mercy rather than sacrifice he calls us into a state of being. Instead of giving a thing that moth and rust can destroy, he asks us to give our attention and focus; to use our energy to show mercy rather than to judge.
When we judge we put a wall between ourselves and other people. This wall of our own opinion can make it impossible to see people as human. As with the Pharisees, judgment turns fellow humans into “tax collectors” or “sinners” instead of Zacchaeus or Mary or any of the other followers who Jesus called to him by name.
We shall all perish, we shall all wear out like our favorite pair of socks but until then we can take on Jesus’s request to hear and show mercy to those around us.
Doing so might be harder than making a one-time sacrifice, but it has a great potential to open our hearts and allow us to hear Jesus call us into his love by name.
All bible quotes are from the NRSV text.
The psalm is from the Book of Common Prayer.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round.