Well, how can you pass up writing about a saint with a name like that? Today the church celebrates the life of St. Sexburga, Abbess of Ely who died circa 700 A.D. Sexburga was both the queen of Kent and, later in her long life, Abbess of the double monastery at Ely–the site of the present-day Ely Cathedral.
Not much is known about Sexburga other than her marriage to King Earconbert and the fact that her sister, St. Ethelreda founded Ely Monastery of which Sexburga would eventually become abbess after her sister’s death in 679. She was also responsible for transferring her saintly sister’s remains from a common grave to a proper sarcophagus. Other than that we don’t know much about this queen-turned-saint.
So, while the life of Sexburga is interesting, it is the gospel passage for today’s daily Eucharist that has caught my mind today. The reading assigned is Matthew 9:9-13. It describes the call of Matthew the tax collector to be one of Jesus’ disciples. That night as Jesus is at dinner at Matthew’s house, surrounded by “many tax collectors and sinners,” the Pharisees question the disciples about why Jesus would surround himself with such outsiders as tax collectors and sinners. Jesus hearing the conversation tells them that those who are sick are the ones who need doctors. He then reveals to them both what he desires and those he has come to save:
“‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” –Matthew 9:13
The part that sticks in my mind is what Jesus desires: “mercy, not sacrifice.” If Jesus is our lord and savior, and if we follow him…attempting to emulate that perfect example that he gives to us, then we too should desire mercy, not sacrifice. Tall order.
Sacrifice is, along with “hard work,” what some say has made our country great. Our culture seems to have a certain veneration of sacrifice. How often do we require sacrifice as a symbol of loyalty? Or, how often do we equate sacrifice and sincerity as one-in-the-same? You see this in all sorts of ways in our lives: be it in tryouts for a sports team or showing our boss that we want that promotion very badly–working on the weekends, spending the extra time proving, through our sacrifice–that we are more worthy than the other person. What is the old saying, “No pain, no gain?” All of it surrounds our human tendency towards showing sincerity of purpose or being by sacrificing our time, our wants, our resources, even our well being in some extreme cases.
However, what Jesus desires is not our sacrifice. Jesus does not care about our sacrifices, he wants us to be merciful. In being merciful we more closely live our lives like our creator, the ultimate giver of mercy. That we show mercy to those who simply request it of us is a divine act. The taskmaster can demand sacrifices, but true holiness–which comes from a higher power, above that of our human nature which seems to always be demanding of us some sort of sacrifice–comes from the granting of mercy.
This weekend, let us take a moment to recognize when we are in a situation where either sacrifice or mercy is required. Let us look for the ways that we can show mercy–to those we encounter, to our family, even to ourselves. In doing so we will more closely be living into the heart of the desire of our lord and savior Jesus.