God's Redemptive Love
It is human nature, I guess, to want to feel like we're better than others. Something in us compares ourselves not with our Savior, whose standard of perfection we can't even approach, but with those we consider to be worse than we are. How nice it is to feel superior! Jesus was well aware of this tendency and specifically warned us against it, as quoted in Matthew's gospel in today's reading.
As I mentioned in my meditation, I worked for many years in prison ministry, and one of the greatest joys in retirement is being a volunteer facilitator for a weekly Bible study at a medium security men's facility. Ironically, even within many prisons there is a de facto hierarchy among the prisoners based on the crime each has committed. "Sure, I broke the law, but I'm nowhere near as bad as that guy!" is occasionally their attitude, though it seems to be less prevalent in those who know Christ. It is for good reason that the chaplains tell volunteers not to ask the men why they are incarcerated. Besides being rude, it may tempt us to "rank" them in some fashion.
And really, being judgmental is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, God instructed Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh of the impending doom they faced because of their sinfulness. What was Jonah's response? He ran away. Now we could understand it if Jonah fled because he feared the people and wanted to avoid confronting them with their sin. They might hurt him! Who among us hasn't at one time or another avoided speaking up when we should have done so, due to fear—real or imagined? Or perhaps if Jonah, like Moses, felt inadequate to the task he might have wanted to escape God's assignment. But that wasn't the issue. His reason? “…I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God…a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2 NIV) Like some today who would rather violent criminals be left in their sin than be healed by Christ, Jonah wanted no part of God's redemptive plan for the people of Nineveh. Ouch!
In contrast, hear the beautiful words written by Gloria Gaither. The song is titled I Then Shall Live and sung to the tune Finlandia, the melody used for the beloved hymn Be Still My Soul. Go ahead, sing it out! Her first verse reads:
I then shall live as one who’s been forgiven;
I’ll walk with joy to know my debts are paid.
I know my name is clear before my Father;
I am His child, and I am not afraid.
So greatly pardoned, I’ll forgive my brother,
The law of love I gladly will obey. *
What a great statement of God's sacrificial love for us—that we don't look to others hoping we can find fault that will make us look good by comparison, but that we understand, as much as humanly possible, the horror of our own sin and the cost Jesus paid to allow us to be reconciled with the Father. When that realization hits home, I think we'll find that we will run towards opportunities to share the redemptive love of God, not run the other way.
- Lisa Stackpole
*Text © 1981 Gaither Music Company. Music © Breitkopf & Hartel (Outside U.S. only). All rights reserved.