Sunday, October 19, 2008

Unmerciful servants?

Unless and until you understand the biblical concept of God's unmerited favour, God's unaccountable love, most of the biblical text cannot be interpreted or tied together in any positive way.

It is the key and the code to everything transformative in the Bible.

In fact, people who have not experienced the radical character of grace will always misinterpret the meanings and the direction of the Bible. The Bible will become a burden and obligation more than a gift.

Richard Rohr, from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

I think what Rohr is writing about here may well lie at the root of the abuse Christians sometimes suffer, disastrously, in church situations, and which I touched on in passing yesterday. I don't think abuse within churches, often referred to as "spiritual abuse", arises from any one denomination, or even from any one strand of churchmanship, more vulnerable though some may be to it than others. I think the problem lies just where Rohr explains it, when people, pastors especially, fail truly to grasp the depth, the essential nature, of God's mercy in Christ, and of the limitless grace that pours out from it. It may be that, as Rohr says, they have not experienced it; or it may be that, having experienced it they have failed to appropriate it for themselves, and thus they cannot pass it on. Or they may, horrifically, have actually forgotten it. Like the people in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23) they may have known Christ's mercy, but the daily responsibility of their positions, and the continual friction of church life, and perhaps most importantly the lack of support - who is pastoring the pastor? - have strangled the memory of grace, and they find themselves hanging onto the mere framework of the word.

This is an immense tragedy for the one who finds themselves in such a position, but it can be equally a tragedy for those for whose souls they are responsible. Harsh though it may sound, Jesus has a word for those who have received mercy, yet fail to pass it on (Matthew 18.21-35). But what of those who have allowed them to come to such a place: those who have failed to take care of their pastors, failed to watch out for signs of weariness and pain, failed even to pray for them? None of us can risk complacency, I think…


Barbara said...

Your post reminded of a recent exchange I had with our priest. At the exchange of peace, we held hands and kissed one another on each cheek (as is the custom here in Quebec!), he called me Auntie Barbara -- a very dear aspect of his African culture -- and then he extended his arms out and gave me a big hug. He said "Thank you for all you have given me." All I could think of to say was "OK." He is not the kind of priest who has forgotten the God of Mercy, the God Who saves, perhaps because people like me (and there are many) have cared for and supported him and even cried with him. I really haven't a clue what I have given him, probably because I am just a dumb instrument in God's hands. So one doesn't have to be a pastor or even a minister of some sort to "pastor the pastor." As you indicated, we all have our role to play.

St Edwards Blog said...

I am having a hard time to come up with the words to express what I want to say.

Everyone is compelled to continue to share what we have been given, but it is our human challenge to not want to reject what we have been given, or worse perhaps- to receive it and not to pass it along in whatever ways.

These words fall flat Mike, but I hope you have some sense of what I am trying to say.