Jesus seemed to anticipate that as he said that while "among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God" -- including a prostitutes or tax collector who had received John's Baptism -- is greater than he" (Luke 7:28). And even in saying that, Jesus' ministry issues an invitation in profound continuity with the one John issued to all those who would hear -- an invitation to repentance and conversion.
We need to hear that invitation. It isn't about getting in to God's good graces or avoiding God's judgment -- in Jesus' ministry, God is already extending grace and suspending judgment before we ask. It's about living into the fullness of that grace. We are invited to make our decision to follow Jesus, and that invitation comes not just once for a lifetime but in every moment we live. Jesus is born anew among us whenever two or three gather in his name. Jesus is at work among us wherever the poor, the sick, and the marginalized are received and find healing and power for new life. And when we keep our eyes, ears, mind, and heart open to receive God's good news, we see it finding flesh in our world in places and in ways as surprising and challenging as they are joyous.
Let's not begin to talk to ourselves about our impressive spiritual pedigree when the very one for whom our ancestors longed and hoped is coming again among us. Let's not presume to draw limits around what God can accomplish and with whom. Let's not measure God's good news of peace according to our own preconceptions when the most certain word we have of it is that it "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). Our conversion didn't end with Baptism; that's just where it began, and it ends only where God's love for us does. In other words, it doesn't end. Expect God's coming; expect the unexpected!
And thanks be to God!
So writes Sarah Dylan Breuer in her wonderful Lectionary Blog, reminding me so clearly, as we come up to the New Year, how profoundly grateful I am to be in a church where this kind of thinking is taken seriously. We are all of us Christians so prone to "draw limits around what God can accomplish and with whom." Truly we must stop it, now: if we are not careful this is where the division in the Church of God will occur, not between Anglicans who do or do not accept bishops of a particular variety. The real danger is of a split between law and grace, with a political extension (seen so clearly in the "War on Terror" and its ramifications) into the triumph of judgement over mercy. As an aside, it grieves me to see the UK Labour Party going down the same road as the US Republican Party over these things, and attempting (albeit feebly, compared with the US Religious Right) to shanghai the Church in support of policies of international intolerance and what could all too easily grow into domestic oppression and the restriction of civil liberties.
Grace is not limited. Mercy is not limited. Only our response is limited - and we must pray that God will wash away those limitations with the living water of his Holy Spirit, and leave us free to respond to God, and to our fellow humans, as Jesus did: directly and openly, his love clean, without the limitations of fear and self-defence, given as freely as the sun and rain.