“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Our faith is a salvation story. And at the heart of that story is God’s grace. The culture has salvation stories also. Turn on your television or go the movies and you”ll find all kinds of stories that address the issue of salvation. Law and order stories are very popular, in this respect, and always have been. Detectives, CSI operatives and James Bond take on the evil threats within society and, in the end, our confidence and optimism are more or less restored. Sci-fi travelers encounter monsters from an alien darkness but manage to push back the darkness and our optimism is again restored. Even if there is no God in the mix, these myths tells us that we can roll up our own sleeves and bring about something resembling a just world and cosmos.
What this also tells us is that beneath the veneer people do genuinely experience the world as a threatening place, fraught with dangers, negative forces and so on. These secular myths respond to this diagnosis and deliver back to us the “cure” in the form of redemptive entertainment which asks us to trust in our own capacities, powers, intelligence, and so forth, in overcoming the threats inherent in life. These myths demand that we get with the various programs of threat eradication. Join the survival rituals or get out of the way. The endings may not be completely happy but there is, at least, room for optimism about the future, provided we do something.
Cultural salvation myths create two kinds of people; your are part of the solution or part of the problem. You are either a link in the chain of self-defense or you are cast aside. This is very much how the Jewish Pharisees of Jesus time saw their fellow Jews with respect to the Roman occupiers. God would deliver Israel, provided everyone obeyed God’s commandments and lived righteously. Secular society and some forms of religion also operate this way. Look at our politics. Everything would work out fine if only everyone would see things our way. In this respect, the “sinners” in the opposite party are the obstacles in the way of redemption. Throw the bums out and we’ll all rest easier.
Now you can get some idea as to what the Pharisees were saying when they accused Jesus of being a friend of sinners. He was giving encouragement to the people who were part of the problem, not the solution. But what was actually going on in Jesus? The “sinners” who encountered Jesus encountered grace, a new and different way of being in the world. Perhaps they were part of the problem according to pious Judaism, obstacles to the survival of Israel. But in these dramatic actions of actually befriending people who were part of the problem, Jesus was staking out a different vision of salvation. His parables and teachings were insights that point to a new vision; the vision of grace. Grace was the radical vision that was now at work in Him. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the basis in history upon which Christians speak of the reality of grace. In Jesus grace has actually happened.
Jesus is the embodiment, the foundation of this Grace. He is not simply an example of grace. His human life set in motion, in real, historical time, the radical vision of God’s way of being with the world, of being with you. When confronted with the threats of suffering and death, He refused to mount His best defense and divide the world into conquerors and conquered. He took the Cross and in doing so broke the chain of self-defense and retribution. Because He was obedient, even unto death for the sake of this grace, God has given Him the name that is above all others. So, we can confess ‘Jesus is Lord’, the trustworthy one.
For those who place their trust, their faith in the culture myths of law and order, grace is an idle vision, a luxury that can have no place in the “real world”. But to place trust, faith, in the event of Jesus, to entrust yourself to this Lord, is to proclaim that nothing is more real, more trustworthy in the real world than the grace of God. It is a costly trust, to be sure. To paraphrase the verse from Matthew;
“Whoever makes survival their aim is invested in a losing proposition, for you will surely die. But whoever is willing to drop their defenses for the sake of the grace of God revealed in me, will find authentic life.”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”