Monday, March 20, 2017

Our Witness to Jesus Christ

John 4:39-42 (NRSV): Our Witness to Jesus Christ
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus Christ] because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The woman at the well in John chapter 4 illustrates how God often uses the least likely, society’s outcast and victimized, to spread the Good News. This happens throughout Scripture, especially in the gospels. Several cases illustrate this point: Consider that Jesus calls Matthew (Matthew 9:9), the loathed tax collector, a man who eventually orates and writes a canonical gospel account of Jesus Christ. Also, Luke’s gospel mentions Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), another hated tax collector who, upon Jesus’ invitation, repents and gives back four times what he stole from others. The faithful Samaritan leper (Luke 17:17-19), furthermore, exemplifies God using society’s marginalized to illustrate thanksgiving. And then, of course, there is the feared outsider who breaks the chains that bind him to the tombs, the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:15-20). Once Jesus frees him, he is commissioned to stay in his Gentile town to evangelize others. The woman at the well, therefore, fits neatly into the category of the least likely to experience and witness to God’s grace, yet Jesus uses her to bring the Good News to her people.
We, too, can become instruments of God’s love in the world, but we must first, like this marginalized Samaritan woman, be willing to listen to God, becoming empty vessels to be filled by the “living water” of his grace. When Jesus asks the woman for a drink, she questions him but stops and listens. She is open to Jesus’ message, even though he is a Jew asking a Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4:9). Historically, first-century Jews despised and alienated Samaritans because they were seen as a mixed Jewish race and impure in their worship (2 Kings 17:24-41). In John’s narration of the woman at the well, the woman uses a successive progression of names for Jesus that indicate her openness and conversion: “Jew” (John 4:9), “Sir” (John 4:11), “prophet” (John 4:19), and finally, as Jesus identifies himself to her, “Messiah” (John 4:25). The woman’s listening leads to a gradual transformation by grace that allows her to become a vessel for God’s voice in her community: “Many Samaritans from that city believed in [Jesus Christ] because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). The Samaritan community first believes in Jesus as the Christ because of the woman’s testimony. As the text indicates, the Samaritans soon invite Jesus to stay with them, and he stays for two days (John 4:40). It is through Jesus’ words, however, that the community comes to believe for themselves -- through their own intimate experience with Jesus -- that he “is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
By grace, we, too, can testify to others about God’s love. The passage preceding this Scripture selection is John the Baptist’s statement regarding Jesus’ identity. John says, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Each of us, if we make ourselves less and God more, can become the voice of Jesus Christ’s love in the world. God wants us, imperfections and all, to be his heralds in our own communities. By our witness of love in the small spaces of our day, others, too, can hear for themselves and know the presence of Christ in our lives.
How do we witness to Christ in our communities? Witnessing does not entail “Bible thumping” or admonition of others; it does not, most times, involve mentioning anything. The best witness we can make is to love others at least as much as we love ourselves. The best witness is to imitate Christ in our relationships with others -- to be self-giving, present, merciful, loving, and accepting. When people see this, they will want to know what brings us such peace and happiness, such wholeness of heart. It is then, that the people we witness to, also, will seek out Christ and hear “for [themselves], and . . . know that [Jesus] is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to be Liberated by Grace

Matthew 6:14-15 (NRSV): Being Liberated
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Forgiveness is daunting, and for many victims, forgiveness seems impossible. Violations of our trust and love by others, unfortunately, can become insurmountable hurdles to forgiveness. All forms of forgiveness, however -- from the extreme to the everyday -- are made possible through God’s grace. And our acceptance of God’s grace to forgive transforms and liberates us.
When it comes to forgiveness, God’s will for us is clear: He desires that we forgive others as he forgives us: “[B]ut if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). Forgiveness, then, is a two-way street. In order to be forgiven, we must accept God’s grace and forgive others. This is a challenge, but forgiving others can be compared to forgiving ourselves.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explains that forgiveness of others is synonymous with the forgiveness of the self. He explains that we love our own person but despise our sinful acts. Using this logic, Lewis explains how we can forgive others even when getting past the “cruelty and treachery” of the violation seems impossible:
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them [the "cruelty and treachery" of others that warrant our forgiveness]. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again. (117)
Forgiveness of others, then, does not reduce the horror of the offense nor does it make it “okay” in any way. But, according to Lewis, forgiveness is an act of self will: We hope for their healing, cure, and humanity.
Forgiveness, finally, equips us to be authentic agents of God’s love. As we go out to serve our neighbor in every face we meet this week, let us remember God’s transformative, healing grace and radiate that to others.
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, Jesus teaches us that to be forgiven we have to first be willing to forgive. Lord, grant us the grace to forgive others and, in turn, to be liberated by your healing and forgiveness. Amen.