The ‘gimmes’ flowed freely in my foursome at the golf league the other night.
No doubt, it had something to do with the fact that none of us (nor our teams) were in contention for the league title. So conceded putts – typically limited to those ‘inside the leather’, or less than 3 feet or so – on this night began to include some that measured five feet… six feet…maybe even a nine-footer or two.
Golf purists might well be appalled at this admission. I’ve played on occasion with those who refuse to give any putt. And indeed, on the pro circuits, every ball must be holed before the score is recorded.
But in truth, the gimme is not a travesty in my experience. Under the proper circumstances, the ‘gimme,’ might well reveal a profound spiritual truth: that we are called to be merciful.
Our ACTS team’s day of reflection yesterday helped to crystallize that insight for me. We spent part of the day breaking open the beatitudes, exploring how four or five different saints managed to live ‘beatitude lives.’ Very often, it meant breaking (or bending) the rules that most of their contemporaries followed.
Francis of Assisi is a case in point. We learned about how one day, he encountered a leper as he traveled along a road near his home. Following ‘the rules’ of his culture, he initially tossed a few coins the man’s way, but studiously avoided any direct contact. Something stirred in him, though – a beatitude spirit, perhaps (‘blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’)– and he returned to the leper and embraced him. In so doing, Francis was given the grace to embrace his true calling in poverty of spirit.
It may not be that the Holy Spirit has this depth of conversion in mind…when we are moved as recreational golfers to concede an opponent’s putt. Still, it changes our hearts – at least a little bit – when we make such decisions. When we bend the rules, to lift a burden from another’s shoulders.
And we have the authority to do so, it seems to me. We may even have the responsibility to do so, if you take Jesus at his word. In the passage we hear from Matthew’s gospel this Sunday, Jesus puts just this sort of power into our hands:
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Imagine that: The putting stroke may not be the only thing we can perfect on the green. It might just be a great place to hone our instincts toward mercy, too.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.