Such Graciousness

19 03 2009

‘Such graciousness!’ The other night, while considering John’s Gospel, chapter 4, it came to me that the one thing that the woman at the well was moved by—changed by—was ‘such graciousness’ imparted by Jesus towards her. This woman, of whom he was fully aware, what a mess of life she had made – with five husbands and another man as well—he loved, he received, he be-friended. He did this, not by ignoring her failure, but by loving her in spite of them. But more than that, he ‘right-wised’ her. He “righteous-ed” her. He justified her. He accepted her; he welcomed her. Not by by-passing the mess, but by giving himself graciously to her.

This is stunning.

During this past term I have been covering some old rich insights, from church history. While looking at the Reformation, I came across Martin Luther’s statement, prior to his coming into a dynamic Europe-tearing faith in Christ.

Martin Luther the monk, said: ‘If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy’. His friend and mentor in grace, Staupitz, tried to convince him of God’s graciousness, but he could not see it, or feel it, of know it.

Sometime later—after the renewed—Martin Luther, had weighed into a debate in criticism of indulgences. He was not initially against the indulgences as such-there was a Papal theology widely accepted for it;  it was just that indulgences were being ‘hawked’ to pay for St. Peter’s Cathedral, and Martin was deeply offended by the manner in which an authorized itinerant showman, named Tezel, was at work on behalf of himself – as well as the papal system.  It stirred everything up, in the world, when he attacked that.

Background:

Pope Leo X issued the sale of indulgences to fund the completion of St. Peter ‘s Cathedral in Rome. John Tetzel was an itinerant papal-fundraiser, who promised his hearers immediate release, according to his rhyme: ‘As soon as the coin in the moneybox rings, the soul from purgatory springs’, and again, ‘Throw your money into the drum, heaven’s gates open and in walks mum’. If a person bought an indulgence for himself it would ‘wash awash the foulest of sins, even if the person had raped the Virgin Mary’. He was crude, tasteless, vulgar, and even contrary to the official theology of indulgences—for at the least the church did teach that the purchase must be accompanied by repentance to be effective. Luther had pastoral responsibility for teaching students, as also for the church where he preached. His concern was a very practical one, that people were being ripped off by such a corrupt and blatant scheme. Luther had no desire to stir up a public quarrel, let alone begin a movement to tear apart the very fabric of Europe. He was not even criticising the official sale of indulgences, just Tetzel’s perversion of the practise.

But then, this amazaing thing:

Luther’s revelation concerning the meaning of Romans 1:17.

He said, ‘I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which …I had been taught to understand philosophically… I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners… I was angry with God …I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God…I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live”. Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. Here a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.’ (John Dillenberger (Ed.), Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings, Doubleday, New York 1961, p. 11)

This, I think, is what the Samaritan woman at the well experienced, in John 4.

It is what gets at us, most deeply of all!

God right-wises us. In the gospel, God is shown to be righteous, not for getting his pound of flesh in punishment for sin. But rather, in taking sin seriously – as Jesus had done with the troubled woman – God still comes to us righteously. And as he comes to us, righteously, it is as the friend who justifies us. He is seen to be righteous in his exercise of grace!  Wow.

This is a turn around 180 degrees from what some have called ‘legal’ repentance.  Legal repentance is not genuine repentance. It is a trick-contract with God. Legal repentance is a little heavy deed of self, in order to get off the divine hook of guilt.

Like buying a pizza, you pay the price (repentance), you get the pizza (grace). No! No! No! That is sometimes how we think it works, in our sinful heads. No. God does a great thing in the gospel. And when Jesus comes to us, it is to bring us the Fruit of that great dying death.

Now:

God comes in generosity, and looks upon us, in mercy, and sets us right. What a scenario. He tips us right way up.  Judicially all is sorted; but practically, it is God’s graciousness that just does that, that is amazing. So lovely, so gracious. Not counting our sins against us. Wow.  

This is the gospel. Such graciousness.








%d bloggers like this: