01 March 2009
Chapter 2 of Death on a Friday Afternoon is “Judge Not,” on the words “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” I love a couple of the remarks Neuhaus makes in the second paragraph: the thief on the cross “stole at the end a reward he did not deserve,” and then, considering the judgment image of the sheep and goats, “The good thief is a found sheep. More accurately, he is a goat who was made an honorary sheep just before his time ran out.” Neuhaus often makes me laugh with such witty gems.
Neuhaus discusses the thief’s mustard seed faith, hardly able to crack the earth as he first knows and expressed it even as he is dying beside his Lord, and says, “Christ’s response to our faith is ever so much greater than our faith. Give Him an opening, almost any opening, and He opens life to wonder beyond measure.” How true this proves every day. No matter how I feel, how harried I am, whether depression has emerged from the depths to take over mind and heart yet again, the least overture to Him, made in the weakest possible faith (“I believe, help Thou my unbelief!” or, perhaps, “to whom else should I turn? You alone have the words of life . . .”) – He answers, answers with abundant blessing if I will open my eyes to see. So often I think to be blessed means for things to go well – my mother-in-law’s cancer would have been cured, my daddy will know me again, the computer will work as I want it to and not keep wasting my time . . . But so often He showers me with a very different kind of blessing – showing me how to die well, demonstrating loving service before me, teaching me to be patient . . . perhaps accompanied by a lovely moonrise or an encouraging poem or a word of hope from a dear friend . . . Oh, He blesses every day the feeblest movement of faith.
I’m sure I posted this thought last time I read the book, but I love its wonderful truth: “The farther [Christian thinkers and mystics] travel on the roads of thought and contemplation, the more they know that they do not know. The most rigorous thought and the most exalted spiritual experience brings us, again and again, to exclaim with St. Paul, ‘O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!’ Therefore it is rightly said that all theology is finally doxology. That is to say, all analysis and explanation finally dissolves into wonder and praise.” I want to be one who praises Him because I do not know but the smallest thing about Him.
Neuhaus says, “The entire discussion of judgment and grace in the Letter to the Romans is to drive home how total is our dependence upon God’s grace in Christ.” This is a truth that, thank Him, is almost forced on me every day: between depression, fibromyalgia, arthritis, exhaustion, my need for His grace is held before me. This is not to say that I don’t often forget it, still; I am not that mature. I would rather find some solution to my difficulties, complain about them to receive the attention of others, use them as excuses to fail. Rather, it is only to say that I have reminders before me if I choose to see them, and He uses them to teach this slow-to-learn heart, gradually, to think of Him first, instead of only after exhausting all other futile attempts to find relief. And He does not give relief from the difficulties themselves, not often, but meets me in them with the strength – His strength – to do His work.
A last thought for this post: “We are saved [. . .] on behalf of all, to be reconcilers, intercessors, and mediators for all.” We are not saved to be separated from the world, to be against the world, Neuhaus says. We are saved to be about Christ’s business of reconciliation, loving and praying for all to know Him. It is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of our days, to be disgusted by the ever-increasing depths of sin surrounding us, to insulate ourselves safely within our holy country clubs . . . but we must see the world as He sees it: God “desires all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And how shall they see unless we go where they are, hear unless we speak what we know?
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us – and let us be willing conveyors of that mercy to the world around us.