Thursday, March 20, 2014

Day 14: Judgement and Grace

"The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.* He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 
-Luke 16: 22-28

When I first looked up the readings appointed for today, I gulped and chided myself for signing up to write reflections on these passages without actually having read them first.  Today's readings, particularly the Gospel passage, are rather, um, heavy.  'In Hades, where he was being tormented', 'Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals', 'The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away'.  What am I supposed to say about all this?  On a blog?  That might be read by people who don't know me?  What did I just get myself into?

The Word of God is full of judgement.  Lots of us like to picture the warm and fuzzy Sunday school Jesus, but He also had another side.  Think of Him overturning the altar tables (I wonder whether Teresa Guidice from Real Houswives of New Jersey knew that she was copying Christ?  Just a little something to think about...) or shouting 'You snakes, you brood of vipers!  How can you escape being sentenced to Hell?' (Matthew 24:33).  Does anyone else find these images a little uncomfortable, a little hard to reconcile?  I think it's very tempting to thank God that we're not the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was talking to here.

But wait a second.  Aren't we?  Today's Gospel passage tells us that 'it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one letter of the law to be dropped'.  Who can live up to the law, all of it, all the time?  No one!  We're all law breakers, and those of us that have the benefit of knowing the Truth and hearing the teachings of the Church even more so, because more is expected of us.  So if no letter of the law passes away, then we're all condemned to the flames, and deservedly so.  Let's all just take a minute (or the forty days of Lent) to think about that.

The beauty of these (admittedly rather unsettling) passages is that they allow us a glimpse into how amazing, grand, and wildly disproportionate the grace of God really is.  This terrible fate of eternal separation and despair is what Christ saved us from, and doesn't that make God all the more wonderful?

The concept of grace has been on my mind recently.  My favorite book, which I read for the first time while on my mission here in South Africa, is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  This novel is a masterpiece, and I really believe that every Christian should read it.  Grace is a central theme to Gilead, and Robinson writes some beautiful passages about it.  'If the Lord chooses to make nothing of our transgressions, then they are nothing.  Or whatever reality they have is trivial and conditional beside the exquisite primary fact of existence.  Of course the Lord would wipe them away, just as I wipe dirt from your face, or tears.  After all, why should the Lord bother much over these smirches that are no part of His Creation?'

To me, today's readings remind us what an extravagant God we serve.  God's grace is even more impressive when you consider what we had condemned ourselves to, through our own fault.  The fact that the Devine chooses to bestow His embracing, all-encompassing love and grace upon us wildly unworthy humans just makes Him all the more grand.  I think Robinson sums it up well when she writes, 'There is an absolute disjunction between our Father's love and our deserving.'  She also says, 'There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or a parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality.'

So the reality of God's grace is much bigger than we mere humans can even imagine.  In light of that, all our faults don't even register against the fathomless mercy and love of God.  That's the truth about the God we serve.  Isn't He awesome?

Keri is 27 years old and from the Diocese of Virginia.  She is a registered nurse 
in the United States  and is working as the coordinator for inpatient 
services at Hawston Hospice in Hawston, South Africa.

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