Lenten Meditation, 13 March 2012
“We, indeed, have been given a God who not only allows us to make mistakes, but even uses our mistakes in our favor! That is the gospel economy of grace and is the only thing worthy of being called ‘good news and a joy for all people’ (Luke 2:10).” (Page 84)
|Altarpiece of the Nativity, St. Peter and Musicians at the Gates of Heaven (ca 1405), Pere Vall. Cardona, Spain: Iglesia de San Miguel|
I forget far too often that grace is not available to me only when I am “good” but especially when I have really blown it. The pre-teen child that lives in my head is still wrapped up in the fairness issues of what is right and wrong, but God’s Grace has nothing to do with fairness. I once heard Bishop Bill Frey say, “If you have the chance to pray for only one, pray for mercy, not fairness.” That is exactly what Grace is about. If left to our own devices to earn a place at God’s table and in God’s kingdom, we fail miserably. Law is about pointing a way to right living, moral behavior; but law teaches us that we cannot ever be perfect in applying law in our own lives.
Father Rohr makes the point that St. Paul argues that law was given by God as a way for us to discover our failure in order for God to make God’s grace, mercy and love available to us who are unworthy of any grace, mercy or love. If law could make us “worthy” we would have absolutely no use for Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Nor would the Holy Spirit be available—or even necessary—in living into the life God has prepared for us in God’s kingdom.
The Liturgy for Ash Wednesday is a powerful reminder that we do not come before God relying on our own righteousness, as did the Pharisee in the parable of the “Pharisee and the Publican.” (Luke 18:9-14) There is a wonderful story of a man who has been a faithful Christian all of his life. When the man dies he is met at the gates of Heaven by the keeper of the keys, St. Peter, who informs the man that in order to enter the kingdom he must have earned 100 points in his life. The man feels fairly confident and begins by telling St. Peter of his perfect attendance in Sunday School all 12 of his school years; and besides that he taught the junior high class at his parish for 35 years. St Peter replies, “How wonderful! That’s one point.”
Now the man is a bit perplexed, thinking teaching junior high students should count for at least 10 points. So he continues, “My wife and I were married for 53 years, and never once was I unfaithful. We raised our children to be faithful Christians, and their children are following in those same footsteps.” St Peter says, “That’s even better! Now you have two points.”
Beginning to sweat a bit, the man says, “I began to tithe when I was 7 years old and never failed to give at least 10% of all of our total income. In addition, I managed the Every Member Canvass for 36 years, each year raising more than the stated goal. I also chaired the capital campaign which raised almost twice the needed funds. And I insisted that the overage be put into an endowment fund to finance outreach locally and globally.” “Now you’re really talking!! You have three points,” replies Peter.
The man is almost frantic and begins to blurt out, “I never passed by anyone asking for assistance, even those who I knew would spend it on drink. I worked in the homeless shelter at least one evening a week for my entire adult life. I started the food pantry that feeds thousands each month and personally donated both goods and money. We travelled to Navajoland and helped start a mission near Window Rock, and we funded it for many years. I also did everything I could to encourage outreach across our diocese and formed the first international outreach mission in Uganda.” “Wow! That’s really something. Now you have four points. You only have 96 points to go.”
At a complete loss, thinking all of that would be worth more than 4 points, the exasperated man says, “Well, I can’t think of anything else. I guess without the grace of God I go to Hell.”
“That’s 96 points. Welcome home!”
“If you can only pray for one, pray for mercy not fairness.”