Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness’

Forgiving Grace

June 16, 2013 1 comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to using the saying “What Would Jesus Do?”  We may also add “What Would Jesus Say” to the mix of these slogans.  They are designed to make us stop and think about the actions we take in life’s challenges.  Some argue we don’t know what Jesus would do because he never encountered some of the situations that occur in our modern world.   Still others hold the question relevant and adaptable to any and all situations.  Take for instance the story of a family who had two young children in the house.  One evening after supper Mom heard the two boys arguing in the kitchen.  She went in to find out what the commotion was all about and as she got closer she heard the younger one say, “but you had the last piece of chocolate cake last week!  It’s my turn and I should get the last piece of this one!”  And the older brother was saying “I’m the oldest, so I get what I want!”  Mom entered the room and says, “Boys, what do we do when we start arguing about things?  Don’t we ask ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?”  Well, the older brother stops and drops his head in apparent guilt, and the younger one says, “Jesus would say “here, you have the last piece of cake.”  Mom said, “Very good, now work it out between the two of you without fighting.”  She turned and walked out of the room with a smile thinking she had finally gotten through to her sons when she hears the older brother say “Okay, I’ll let you feel important, you be Jesus!”

That scenario may not be exactly like the story in today’s Gospel, but what it does is start the conversation of how we decide who in society is relevant and who isn’t.  Obviously, in the joke, the older brother maintains that his age gives him a status that places him above anything the younger one might think, even the option of taking turns.  What we have with Luke’s story is someone who is recognized as an authoritative figure in society; a Pharisee who expects his position in the community to give him an excuse for neglecting certain customs and courtesies.  He was a poor host and a prejudiced one at that.  The Pharisee has lost sight of the big picture.  He is so drawn into keeping the laws he has lost his compassion for humanity.  He fails to see God’s unending Grace and forgiveness being poured out to all regardless of wealth or status.  The focus is on Jesus allowing a sinner to fuss over him.  He doesn’t care that she is tending to the needs of his guest that he had neglected to provide for him.  Instead of noticing the good that is being done, all the attention is drawn to what could be wrong with the woman’s actions.

How often do we recognize this situation in the world around us?  We can become so concerned about who others are, what they have, what they don’t have, or what they are doing, that we lose sight of the bigger picture; or more importantly, lose sight of the real nature of how we are supposed to live with each other.  God’s grace was flowing abundantly and freely with the forgiveness that Jesus was giving to this caring soul yet few knew it.  The host was so full of himself he failed to offer the common courtesies of the times; a welcoming kiss, a bowl to wash up in, and a towel to dry off.  Simple things, of course, but it took a common person from the streets to notice this and willingly and compassionately do for the host what he himself failed to do.  We know the love that Jesus gives, so maybe you can imagine beginning there in person, being able to provide for his personal needs and having that love given directly back to you?  Love so deep the tears of joy could not be held back.  So many tears you wouldn’t need water.  Perhaps it would be in this moment that we see God’s grace in both the simple and complex issues in our lives.  Apparently this is nothing new.  We see examples of it throughout 4,000 years of recorded history.  We see it in our first reading with David’s want of another man’s wife.  Again it appears as a Pharisee’s jealousy over Jesus’s attention to a sinner.  And we find it in today’s world in a modern day greed that disregards all the beatitudes and the tenth commandment (you shall not covet … anything).  It may be difficult at times to grasp what it takes to see the big picture, to be fully human and see God’s grace given without distinction of class or culture.  That’s what the Gospels do.  That’s what the Good News is.  That’s what Jesus is teaching us:  How to be fully human.  The laws and commandments are there to guide us and provide everyone the foundation and framework to care for each other, but He says “Don’t stop there.  Don’t stay in the box.”  Boxes are restrictive and confining.  The host of this dinner, Simon, who knows the laws, has put all his energy into living by the law, putting everything into a tiny, neat box.  How unfortunate for the many people around him who could use his help?  And how unfortunate for him that he doesn’t recognize this gift that he can’t see?

He has taken the law to the point of making it his idol and has forgotten how to be human.  He segregates, judges and divides people based on their obedience to a code instead of their spirit and ability to be transformed.   Jesus sees beyond the structure, removes the barrier and sees the person in their true human nature.  He knows that we make mistakes.  For the text to mention that this woman was a sinner means whatever she had done, it was done with the public’s knowledge.  Everyone knew about it.  But it doesn’t keep her from recognizing who was in her midst.  We are also shown that Jesus recognizes when someone is genuinely sorry and he knows we are capable of making those mistakes more than once.  He knows this because he knows the world and knows temptation because he, too, is human as well as divine.   I recently had a discussion where we were talking about how hard it is not to confine God to our expectations where we say “this is what God is and this is how we are supposed to worship.”  That method is perfectly fine for starting out in life because we need structure and discipline to form us, and it takes practice to make sure we don’t keep falling back into bad habits.  But growth doesn’t happen when we resign ourselves to placing people in categories by our own errant judgments.  We ignore the human and put people in their places based on what side of the street – or river – they live on, where they got their degree or whether or not they have one, and even how they pronounce words or use words that don’t really exist like some of yinz do.

Personally, the more I read and reflect on the Gospel of Luke, the more it becomes central to the decisions I make in my life and the more I refer to it as a model of how to take the Good News out into the world.  Mainly, I’m drawn to Luke’s Gospel because of its inclusiveness and ability to bring the most neglected people into the picture.  He allows those on the fringes of society that are generally left out of so many important texts; the poor, the sick, the children, and the women to assume the actual roles they play in society.  I also believe there is a connection between those who are a part of our parish and the naming of our church as St. Luke’s.  I always tell the other deacons I know in and outside of our diocese how you make my job easy.  A big part of the work of a deacon is to take the gospel into the world and identify the needs of the people, taking those needs back to the church and moving the people towards those needs.   I’m overwhelmed at times by the number of you who have come to me, letting me know who needs help and attention.  The church and the community are much better because of it.  Perhaps that’s why I like this particular reading and how it adds the beginning of chapter eight to the end of it.  Luke doesn’t present a Jesus that does one kind thing for someone and goes back to being on top with the “in crowd.”  He starts at the bottom, with those who have been declared the least, and spreads his good news upward.  He prepares the way by showing the world that the way to salvation is not through laws and good deeds but through forgiveness, love, and grace.  His followers don’t stop with twelve men.  He gets support from women he has healed like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others who have been called sinners.  What was once denied to many by a few is now free to all from one.  Still today, as we follow Him we are also blessed by the grace received through it.  The love continues on.  The forgiveness never ends.  The grace never stops.  Amen.

RCL Proper 6 (Luke 7:36-8:3)

Thieves on Each Side

February 24, 2013 1 comment

I hang in contradiction to myself on both sides of the cross; a thief in either case, a sinner. Not thought to be redeemable in most people’s society. Not worthy to be given a second chance in this world of flesh and blood. At once I’m both humble and arrogant. As much as I beg to be remembered in another world, I’m also capable of rejecting the One that can bring me the forgiveness I need in this one.
Encountered each day is a choice of being one thief or the other. As we recognize what latches onto our attention in life we must also come to terms with what can either ignite our souls or make us numb to our surroundings. One thief hangs his head in anger and turns away, just as we turn our heads from most uncomfortable situations. Consider the man with the handwritten “homeless” sign on the street corner. Is this person in our midst really in pain and suffering? How do we know? Do we ignore them and condemn them even more because we don’t want to admit how much they remind us of ourselves? Or maybe how much worse off we could easily be than they are? Or are they in truth in the same condition we are in, but we choose to ignore our own reality and refuse to acknowledge that their pain is also our relief? Why are we repulsed? The choice is ours. Easily enough, we ridicule them, expecting this to ease our own pain through it.
At the same time the other thief awakens for a moment, drawn into the face of this person before them; this face that shows up on our street corner. All of a sudden we remember. We feel. Compassion consumes us. This world may have taken its toll on us both, but we are not done. And we are not alone. Because this face is also the face of the one who invites us in, arms open wide, inviting us in to share the pain, to be with them in and through the pain. The pain is real. The face is real. The cross is real. The sorrow flows outward and into this world like the blood that drips from the face, hands, feet, and wounds from leather stripped skin of that one who hangs on the cross between us.
Yes, between us, between two thieves, between two sinners. One too caught up in his own sorrow to recognize how close forgiveness is; one too alive in his own death to allow this world to pass away without a second chance. Which thief will I be?