Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. I

Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew Having spent the last week with Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis’ Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Vol. I, I’m now ready to give some preliminary impressions: preliminary because I’ve not read the whole thing, or even a tenth of it. But I spent an hour with it on Monday evening, and half-an-hour each morning since, and I think I’ve got the flavor of it.

Bottom line: I love it. It’s a keeper.

To recap, I got this book after praying for help from God to jumpstart in me a deep love of scripture. I want that precisely because the scriptures are a chief way God chose to use to make himself known to us. They are, in a sense, incarnational; and as St. Jerome said, ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ. Conversely, to know Christ one must know the scriptures, and to love Christ one must love the scriptures.

And Erasmo clearly loves the scriptures. It’s clear in every line. He has read them, tasting the words, chewing on the meaning, and coming to know the Lord he loves through them, and he has made his meditations available to us.

The book begins with a lengthy introduction (around fifty pages) entitled, “A Cordial Reading of God’s Word,” which gives Erasmo’s approach to the project. These fifty pages (or, at least, the thirty or so that I’ve studied) might be worth the price of the book all by themselves. Here’s a sample:

The principal care of one who would make his house within Christ’s Word must be to allow the sacred text all its importance, all its resonance, all its radiance and centrality. He will ceaselessly allow it to occupy the central “block” of both his page and his loving attention, as in those manuscript commentaries on The Book in the Middle Ages—of Jewish, Christian, or Moslem origin—which display a minimal portion of the inspired text within a solid square in the middle of the page and whose thick margins, on four sides, became more and more crowded with the glosses of scribes who prayed, studied, memorized, and recopied—in a word, celebrated—the text inexhaustibly.

Not only is the Word of Scripture central to the study of Christ, it is to be central to our lives. The page with the Word at its center and glosses around the outside is to be the model for my life: my life is to be a gloss on the Scripture.

Every page is like this: every page has some fact, some link, some relation, some metaphor, rooted in the Word, rooted in the Faith, rooted in the Liturgy, that opens my eyes and begins to lift me up to heaven. I could multiply examples endlessly, but if I gave as many as I’d like then I’d certainly be hearing from the the Copyright Cops. But here’s one more example, in paraphrase.

At one point, while talking about the importance of the Greek text, Erasmo notes that the word St. Paul uses in Letter to the Ephesians for the “offering” of the temple sacrifices is the same word Matthew uses when people “bring” the sick and lame to Jesus to be healed. The sacrificial victim must be spotless, without flaw; and when folks bring their loved ones and “offer” them to Christ, he heals them, makes them clean and spotless, so that he can in turn offer them to God. And this adds a crucial element to the scene:

The situation in Matthew is then enhanced from a merely thaumaturgic one (even if this is establishing Christ’s crucial identity as Messiah) to a cultic, mystagogical, and even eucharistic one.

Jesus is not just a magician, not just a wonder-worker: in healing those brought to him, he is foreshadowing what he came to Earth to do for all of us on the cross.

In addition to reading and studying the opening essay, I’ve been spending some time each morning with the actual scripture of Matthew and Erasmo’s meditations on it. I’ve gotten partway through verse 19 of Chapter 1, which is slow going consider that the first 16 or 17 verses are all begats. (There are important lessons in the begats!) And my experience with these shorter meditations is similar to my experience with the opening essay: on every page there’s a connection I had not made, an image that will stick with me and enrich all future readings. I hope to have more to say about some of them in coming days and weeks.

In the meantime…if anything I’ve said appeals to you, go ahead and get a copy. I think you’ll find it to be worthwhile.

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