Friday, September 23, 2011

Nothing Special

Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.     -- Psalm 25:8

These words from the Hebrew Scripture make me think of Jesus.  Jesus was often criticized for sitting and talking and eating with sinners.  "Why does he eat with tax collector's and sinners?" the Pharisees asked.  And Jesus, who heard them, answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."  (Mark 2:15-17)

I wonder what messages he would have shared with the tax-collector's and prostitutes and such.  I imagine him sharing messages of God's steadfast love and forgiveness.  Perhaps he shared examples from the past.  There are plenty to choose from in Scripture. 

The story of Jacob comes to mind, as it too was in the readings for this week.  Jacob connived to get his brother's birthright, and lied to his father in order to steal his brother's blessing.  He had to flee his home, and everything he loved, to escape Esau's wrath.  Used to living in tents, and having little work to do, he must have felt very much the hardship of being alone in the desert with only the clothes on his back and a stone for a pillow.   But God comes to him in a dream, and tells him, "Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land."  With this revelation, Jacob begins to change his ways.  God's love can transform a sinner's life.

This was something the Pharisees didn't seem to understand.  They believed that only the righteous, like themselves, were loved by God.  Only those who obeyed the laws of Moses, like themselves, were acceptable to God, and the community.  Like Jonah, they wanted sinners to be punished, not forgiven.

Which is why Jesus not only taught sinners such as the tax-collectors and prostitutes, he also taught the self-righteous Pharisees.  So many of his parables are directed to those who thought they didn't need teaching.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan shows the "heretical" Samaritan being a better neighbor than the priest or Levite.  The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard illustrates that God's grace is not dependent on how hard you've worked.  All receive the same grace.  All are loved equally.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches both sinners and saints.  It offers guidance to the young profligate son and caution to the elder obedient one.  The younger brother takes his inheritance, wastes it all, and ends up living in a pigsty.  The elder brother thinks he has earned his father's love, that only he deserves his father's rewards.  Anything else is just not fair.  Both are thinking only of themselves.  Both need a change of heart.  The younger brother needs to trust that he is not worthless in his father's eyes; and the older brother needs to see that he is not the only one who is worthy in his father's eyes.  Both need to learn how to receive and return love.  

This reminds me of something a friend shared about Alcoholics Anonymous the other day.  She said AA teaches you that You are not Special.  Neither your success in life, nor your failures, are the result of your "specialness."  You are not invincible.  Nor are you a victim.  You're not the best, and you're not the worst.  You are just like every other human being, making bad choices.  In this way, the self-destructive learn to raise their heads, and the high-and-mighty learn to lower theirs. 

Isn't this just what Jesus was all about?  A constant refrain in the readings of late has been, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last."  And as my pastor said, "Then maybe we will be able to join our hands in a circle."  Yes, for then we will know that God loves us all.

Dear God, may we learn that we are all, each and every one of us, in many different ways, both broken and blessed.  May the love you give us so generously be shared generously with others.  Love always, Pam

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