Sunday, April 22, 2012

Forgiven for Being Good

Readings: Third Sunday in Easter

Are you good?

If you're reading this, then you probably are a good person, or you have the potential to be one, or you at least want to be one. That's the human condition. That's what we all want to think about ourselves.

The Apostles in our first reading allowed their audience no such luxury. They had just cured a man of his longstanding lameness so that he could walk again. And they did it, they said, by calling on the name of the man, Jesus, whom the crowd had killed not long before.

Now wait a minute, you say. The crowd didn't kill anybody. The Romans killed Jesus. Well, yes, some Romans did the deed itself. But they couldn't have done if the crowd had tried to stop them. The crowd was guilty of what the legal profession would one day call "contributory causation." They helped cause the death of Jesus, because they had done nothing to stop it. Indeed, many of them had called out to have another man pardoned instead of Jesus.

Yet the Apostles go on to say that Jesus makes his name available to be called on freely, even to those who, by their inaction, enabled his executioners. To pardon them from paying the debt for their sins, including that one. (It is significant that many languages use the same word for guilt and debt.)

Ok. The crowd needed forgiveness, just like the lame man needed to be healed of his affliction. But you're good. For you forgiveness is optional, right?

Again, be honest. If you had been in the crowd when Jesus was executed, would you have done anything different? Would you have saved him? Would you have tried? Whether you admit it or not, the people in the crowd were like you, and you are like them. Good people.

How good are we?

How we rationalize our choices to maintain our self-talk about our own goodness! Some people might be pro-life, otherwise liberty-loving people who think that wanting to use government power to coerce others to have babies they don't want or can't support makes them good people. Others might be pro-choice, otherwise life-cherishing people who think that preserving a woman's license to kill the living human being in her own womb before it can become a legal person - her child - makes them good people. How we tell ourselves what we need to hear in order to think that we never have and never will compromise, contradict or violate our own core values! Or that our core values are consistent with each other!

Stephen Sondheim was right on point in his musical Into the Woods when one of his characters says to the crowd, "You're not good, you're not bad. You're just nice." And another character observes, "Nice is different than good."

Forgiveness is not an option. Forgiveness is a necessity. For all of us, all the time. It's just socially constructed to be more obvious in some people than in others.

And so our psalm and our second reading exhort us to turn away from our sin and toward our God for Forgiveness. How shall we receive that Forgiveness?

In that darkened room of our Gospel reading, so long ago, as his former followers sat in mourning, Jesus suddenly showed up. He spoke with them, touched them, and ate with them. Face to face.  That is how they received their Forgiveness. That is how we shall receive ours. Up close, in person. As it were, face to face. That is the Promise God makes to those who seek Him.

So, seek, and you shall be found. Even if you think yourself to be at the bottom of the heap of those who seek God, it's the best heap there is to be at the bottom of!

And God's Peace be with you always.

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