Monday, July 27, 2015

Unmercifully Blessed

In recent days I've found myself thinking about and re-exploring  the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. It's a story of Jesus that only appears in one gospel (Matthew), it features a man who having a great debt faces terrible punishment. at the last minute his master has a change of heart and mercifully forgives the debt. Shortly after this, the servant tracks sown another man who owes the master a debt and threatens him with the same punishment he narrowly avoided, when the master hears about this... he reverses his decision and comes down on the unmerciful servant like a tonne of bricks.

In hindsight, the point of the story post Jesus death, resurrection and ascension is quite clear to us because those of us who are Christians recognise that in Christ, God forgave each and every one of us an unpayable debt, and therefore we accept the importance of forgiving others their own sins, however manifold.

However, I believe that the parable has applications beyond the obvious.

Why do we always assume that this attitude only applies to God's grace in respect of the bad things he has forgiven us? I put it to you that in fact, this applies equally to God's providence - the good things he gives us. When God blesses us, should we not equally acknowledge that we also don't deserve the good things he gives us. When we see people who have not been so fortunate or have yet to experience blessing in a particular way, should we not be merciful to them? Should we not remember what it was like to manage day by day before God blessed us? Should we not recognise in others, the difficulties and trials we may once have walked with and escaped, or may have completely avoided simply because God chose to bless us in a particular way?

The most obvious, stand-out example for me is the concept of marriage and the family. Time and time again I see people move into family life (with or without children), and they go through a personality change. I'm not talking about the increase of responsibilities and the change in priorities - these are natural. What I'm talking about is a personality swap that seems to occur. Where once you could joke around with your friends, the humour is lost and actually becomes offensive to the point they feel feel they have to defend one another. These are just the first few subtle cracks of an invisible chasm that begins to widen as time goes by, one that begins to create two tiers within the church... haves and have nots; one that has led to the idolatrous worship of the family unit within the Church... where those who do not meet the criteria are seen as eccentric lepers who we find discomfort in being around, whose presence embarrasses us and who we don't like to talk about because they have become so foreign to us.

In some ways, attitudes like this remind me of the final scene in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers:


It may sound ridiculous, but sometimes it really does seem sometimes like you can strike up a conversation with someone you once knew following a positive change of circumstances... and they just react as if you are some kind of aberration, foreigner or alien. The idea that your friends have become replaced by pod people is laughable... but the feelings associated with it are also not very nice.

There's another parable that Jesus told (this time in Luke's gospel), it's the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In this tale, a man who has been abundantly blessed with the things of this world remains blissfully unaware of a poor man named Lazarus who can only hope that leftovers might come his way.  However when both men die, the situation is reversed and Lazarus enjoys the company of Abraham in heaven, whilst the rich man longs for drops of water to cool his tongue from the heat of Hades. Isn't it telling that Jesus doesn't even bother to give the rich man a name? Because of their attitudes, the rich man is temporal and Lazarus is eternal. It is a tale of two chasms - the lateral and eventually... the vertical.

This then is another take on the temptation to be unmerciful. Had the rich man remembered where his blessings came from, had he been mindful of Lazarus... he could have a voided his fate.

So in conclusion then, what am I saying? Am I suggesting that if you are married with kids, you've had your lot in life and if you forget your single friends you are in danger of hellfire? No, of course not. I was merely using the paradigm between the married and the single as an example as it is the one that is most prevalent and relevant to me (and I should add that it isn't even universally true... I am blessed with several groups of married friends who treat me well).

No this isn't my point at all. My point is simply this... that each and every one of us has an obligation to recognise the manifold ways that God has blessed us... and not hoard it from or lord it over the people around us. there must be no ivory towers in God's kingdom.

Let it not be said of us that we are "unmercifully blessed". Instead, let us seek ways of  using our blessings to raise others up. Let us use what God has given us to bless others.

I'd like to finish with a quote from Ridley Scott's take on Robin Hood. I think it sums up in many ways the kind of attitude we should have with regard to the undeserved providence we may find ourselves the beneficiary of:

"We can't repay our good luck with bad grace, it invites darkness."

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