Tuesday, May 13, 2014

He even had mercy on the cattle, dumb old cows

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to do it.
Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again,
    tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you. Proverbs 3:27-28

A small group of weary women gather at my mom’s house every other Monday night. And we do a lot of working at the local food bank or as a high school nurse on the southside or as a home health care nurse for pregnant teens or tutoring scruffy second graders and Iranian immigrants or ordering complex numbers at a beautiful restaurant or walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with a father or…me. And we drink iced tea together and read a book together but mostly we just sit. And carry one another’s burdens.  Sitting is good at the end of a long fourscore of days of offering up cups of water to the least of these.

Right now we are reading Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebel. And in Chapter Five, the teeming city of exceedingly great Nineveh, whose evil had come up before the Lord God, is looking a lot better than His prophet Jonah.  Because they got it. They called out to the mighty God and turned from their evil ways.  And we cannot even begin to count the ways Mr. Jonah did not get it.

But the big way he didn’t get it is that he didn’t understand this God very well. This Lord who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all He has made. He would not accept that the God whom he served, the One with all of those Mosaic Laws and Commandments which made him feel so smug and separate, was relentless, relentless in His pursuit, Jonah could not grasp the “promiscuity of God’s love. The fact that God’s love is unconditionally deep and wide and offered to all people without distinction frustrates Jonah.”

But in a big way I too do not understand this God very well. And any bit of my life that looks like the ungrateful servant, the one who was forgiven of so much and yet held a few coins against his neighbor is indeed grievous. “Jonah’s heart is stubborn, self-righteous, self-serving, and full of pride–such an utter contrast to God’s gracious heart…Jonah’s anger is killing him. He is a miserable man because he’s not free–he’s still a slave to his own bitterness, limitations and weaknesses. Some of us are miserable for the same reasons. God is working on us, teaching us to trust Him, specifically in those areas where it is so very, very hard to discern what He is doing and why. And it hurts.”

And what can I do about it? I can act in faith in this love so big I cannot understand it, this while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us love. I can act right now. Freely I have received, freely I can give. Forgiveness.

I have it with me. I live in it. Surrounded by His mercy and lovingkindness. And with the same measure ye mete, it shall be dealt unto you. Heaping and overflowing. Thus let me not withhold good to those whom it is due. When it is in my power to do it. I shall say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when I have it with me even now.  It is hard to be even more proactive than my Savior who even as they spit and pelted Him with rocks, forgave.

And I pulled this off of a Facebook friend this morning, a long-ago student who still doesn’t know about possessive pronouns. But may I sing it in my heart all day long, as I offer up cold cups of water to a dry and thirsty people.

It’ll clear the bitterness away.
It can even set a prisoner free.
There is no end to what its power can do.
So, let it go and be amazed
by what you see through the eyes of grace.
The prisoner it really frees is you.