Who is worthy to enter the land promised to Israel by God after Exodus? Not Moses. Who is worthy to have Jesus come under the roof of his home? Not the Centurion. Who is worthy to receive forgiveness of sins? Trick question...for the Son of Man comes to proclaim forgiveness of sins, to give sight to the blind, to free the captive and to restore the dead to life. In the end, it is not about worth. It all comes back to the mercy, and love, of God.
The challenge for us is overcoming the stumbling block of "worth" in our lives. In our household, we have a money program that will, if you wish, calculate our "net worth." That is the difference between the assets we possess, over and against the debts we owe. Like most people in our society, that number is negative. Because we have a mortgage and other assorted debts, we owe more than we have. Our net worth is not even "zero." We have a negative net worth.
It is one thing to have that negative net worth in our economic lives, but how often as well do we feel that we have as well a negative self worth? We see someone with more of anything that we might possess, and we feel a deficit. They might have more money. They might have more advantage, or more talent. They might be better looking. They might be anything "more" than we are; and, as we observe that difference, we feel-somehow-less. We feel less worthy, not out of humility. We feel less worthy because of shame. That shame attaches to us in much the same manner as the label "unclean" in scripture attaches to the Gentile, to the sinner, to the dead. We are less, and we are separated from community, from a healthy sense of our selves and from God.
What God labors toward, in Covenant as we read Numbers and in Christ as we read Luke, is a restoration, a reconciliation that lifts us up, and restores us to a life that not only feels whole, but is whole...and holy. Even as God tells Moses that his doubt at Meribah will preclude him from entering the Promised Land, he is given a glimpse of it and the knowledge that the people will enter it, and will as well enter into God's blessing. Moses is able to secure a heritage in Joshua's anointing and ordination. He reminds Israel once again to maintain a steadfast commitment to the Covenant, to worship God and make their offerings while at the same time keeping the practice.
Jesus greets us in the 7th chapter of John with some of the same assurances, adding as well a more expansive and inclusive invitation to all that God's mercy is being poured out and a new covenant of grace is being asserted for a broken world. He affirms the steadfast faith of the centurion. He restores the widow of Nain's son to life (and the widow to safe deliverance from poverty and degradation). He assures John's disciples that they can take his testimony back to him: that the signs of the kingdom are all around. Restoration is at hand.
|Jesus restores the Widow of Nain's son to life...|
In the home of Simon the Pharisee, he gives us an intimate look at what forgiveness can do to whatever level of that debt called shame that each of us carries in life. While the guests and host are at table, a women (a SINNER) enters with a jar of expensive ointment. With her tears, her own hair and the ointment she cleans and anoints Jesus' feet. The Pharisee does not acknowledge the grace of that gift. He instead focuses (as others, as we, would) on the woman's debts, her shame. Jesus' teaching goes right to the heart of the matter: two owe debts of different magnitude to a Lord. If both are forgiven, which one loves that Lord more? The one whose debt was larger, of course...
If Jesus' work in Luke is to mean anything, then it must include for us all an invitation to lay down the burdens of debt we carry with us in order to embrace grace and forgiveness. We have to be willing to submit to the reconciling love of our Creator, and to surrender our tight hold on the shame that too often confirms our negative self-worth. But in that, we cannot forget that the reward for that submission is an invitation to a humble life of restoration to an inheritance that we could never earn but is one that God yearns to bestow on us. Jesus embodies fully that moment when the balance of shame and loss we experience in life is transformed into a new life of hope and grace by the forgiveness of sins. The challenge to us then is to remember that forgiveness of sin (and new life) is not an asset to be hoarded, but a sort of wealth that is confirmed only when it is continually offered up and extended to others. It only grows in value when we pass it on freely. Then, with that grace, we find out what "being rich" really means.