“We are receiving what we deserve for our deeds. (Luke 23:41)
Every other day, it seems, the New Orleans newspaper tells of some group angry at a government entity for not “giving us what we have coming.”
Following Hurricane Katrina (August/September 2005), the federal government (in embodiments such as FEMA and the Corps of Engineers) arrived with billions of dollars to restore the city of New Orleans and help people rebuild their flooded homes. I have no idea how many billions were paid out, but the lasting remembrance some of us will carry to our graves are the disgruntled home-owners complaining about “not receiving my fair share.”
Recently a lawsuit was settled with the government handing out additional truckloads of cash. Plaintiffs claimed their homes had been appraised by the feds on the basis of what they were worth pre-Katrina and not what it would take to rebuild them.
The letters to the editor page regularly features stories from citizens not getting their fair share.
Watch for it in your area too. It’s coming. Belly-aching residents who are not getting what they deserve. It’s a national disease.
It’s all about justice.
In justice, I get my fair share. I get what’s coming to me. What I deserve.
Last week, as I write, untold millions watching the Casey Anthony trial from Orlando were stunned when the jury acquitted her of any responsibility in the death of her little daughter. A hue and cry went up from across the nation calling for justice.
I don’t know about you, my friend, but I do not want justice. Not in any shape or form.
I want mercy.
Mercy is when I do not get what’s coming to me.
And grace, to complete this dualism, is when we do get what we did not deserve. Mercy turns the guilty loose; grace finds him a job and a place to live. Mercy is the absence of punishment; grace is the presence of blessing.
Mercy is what the psalmist was celebrating when he said, “He (God) has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
My beloved friend James Richardson used to tell of a headstrong fellow bellowing in a church business meeting, “Well, all I want is what’s coming to me.” A little lady sitting behind him muttered, “Sit down, Henry. If you got what was coming to you, you’d be in hell.”
Amen. Me, too.
In “The Great Divorce,” C. S. Lewis tells of a busload of residents from hell checking out Heaven to see if they would like to transfer. It turns out that people from hell are transparent, ghostlike, whereas everything in Heaven–including the people–are so solid even the grass is like iron.
Lewis relates several (imaginary, of course) conversations between the visitors and saints who have been sent to explain matters. An Anglican priest from hell (!) resists Heaven because he prefers to be open to new truth and not confine himself to narrow doctrine. He wants to continue his participation in a theological society they’ve formed in hell. An angry woman (“the grumbler”) cannot get past how poorly she was treated in her earthly years–at home, by her friends, in the nursing home. She is unable to consider the possibility of swapping her anger for something glorious and eternal. Lewis describes a vamp whose earthly life was spent flirting and seducing and even though she is now encountering glorified residents of Heaven, cannot turn it off. Some are ready to leave Heaven when they find that people they have hated on earth are present, and they might have to face them.
The encounter that lingers with me longest, however, was between a man who had been a “Big Boss” on earth and a former employee of his company. (Lewis calls them “Big Ghost” and “one of the bright people.”)
The Big guy says, “Look at me, now. I gone straight all my life. I don’t say I was a religious man and I don’t say I had no faults, far from it. But I done my best all my life, see? I done my best by everyone, that’s the sort of chap I was. I never asked for anything that wasn’t mine by rights. If I wanted a drink I paid for it and if I took my wages I done my job, see? That’s the sort I was and I don’t care who knows it.”
The saint says, “It would be much better not to go on about that now.”
“Who’s going on? I’m not arguing. I’m just telling you the sort of chap I was, see? I’m asking for nothing but my rights. You may think you can put me down because you’re dressed up like that (which you weren’t when you worked under me) and I’m only a poor man. But I got to have my rights same as you, see?”
“Oh no,” said the bright one. “It’s not so bad as that. I haven’t got my rights, or I should not be here. You will not get yours either. You’ll get something far better. Never fear.”
The big ghost says, “That’s just what I say. I haven’t got my rights. I always done my best and I never done nothing wrong. And what I don’t see is why I should be put below (you).”
The conversation goes on in this vein a bit. Finally, tiring of hearing his former boss extol his virtues–he’s never done wrong, he only wants his rights–the heavenly one says:
“It isn’t exactly true, you know.”
“What isn’t true?” asked the ghost sulkily.
“You weren’t a decent man and you didn’t do your best. We none of us were and we none of us did. Lord bless you, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to go into it all now.”
“You!” gasped the ghost. “You have the (nerve) to tell me I wasn’t a decent chap?”
“Of course…. The men who worked under you all felt (murder in their hearts for you). You made it hard for us, you know. And you made it hard for your wife too and for your children.”
“Made it hard for you and your like, did I? If I had you back there I’d show you what work is.”
As he rejects Heaven, the big boss angrily stalks off, still muttering about the injustice of it all. “I came here to get my rights, see? Not to go snivelling along on charity tied to your apron-strings. I didn’t come here to be treated like a dog. I’ll go home. That’s what I’ll do.”
And that’s what he did. He went “home.” Back to hell.
No one who knows the Lord Jesus Christ and ever experiences His love wants justice for themselves. It’s all about grace and mercy.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5-6).
On another occasion, he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The closer you get to the Savior, the more you know Him and love Him, the more you will feel like the poor tax-gatherer whom Jesus described. Standing some distance away, (he) was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me the sinner!’ (Luke 18:13)
That’s why, from the moment you first experience His mercy, your life will be characterized by one overwhelming sensation: Gratitude.
In the home of Simon a Pharisee, our Lord reclined at the table. As the men ate, visited, and chatted, a woman of questionable reputation slipped in and took a place near Jesus’ feet. Soon, she began to weep. As the tears fell on His feet, she looked for something to dry them with. Having nothing else, she let down her hair to use as a towel. Holding those feet in her hands, she was overcome with love for the Lord and did something that shocked everyone: she began to kiss them.
In for a dime, in for a dollar. Is that how the expression goes? Might as well go the rest of the way. So, now she brought out of her pocket a small container of perfume and poured it all over His feet. The fragrance filled the room.
Simon the Pharisee was incensed. “This proves it,” he thought. “If this man were who everyone claims Him to be, He would know this woman is unworthy and would want nothing to do with her.”
Jesus, knowing his thoughts–I imagine everyone else did too; some things are written so plainly on our face that no one can miss them–told him a parable of two debtors who had been forgiven. “Which one loves his benefactor more?” the Lord asked.
Simon said, “I suppose the one forgiven more.”
Jesus said, “You are exactly right.” Then came the lesson. “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet.” That was a basic act of hospitality so dust from the street might be rinsed off. John MacArthur said it would be like failing to offer to take a visitor’s coat. “She on the other hand has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair.”
“You gave me no kiss.” A kiss of greeting on the cheek was then and continues to be a common act of welcome in that part of the world. “But she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet.”
“You did not anoint my head with oil.” The typical welcome might involve a pinch of sweet-smelling incense that was burned or a drop of attar of roses was placed on the guest’s head. This was all about good manners. “But she has anointed my feet with perfume.”
There was one overriding reason for this woman’s strong emotional reaction to Jesus’ presence: “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven.”
But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:36-47)
In Heaven, every resident feels blessed to have been included. Surprised, too, I’m guessing. They feel so, so, so grateful to the Father whose abundant love for His rebellious creation made this happen. And to Jesus the Son whose willingness to
The wisest among us do not wait for Heaven to begin expressing gratitude. Overwhelmed by God’s goodness, we live each moment in a spirit of thankfulness….thankful to God for it all, to other believers for the privilege of being numbered among them, to saints in Heaven who preceded us for their faithful example and generous heritage bequeathed to us, and for every opportunity that each new day brings.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you, brothers and sisters. Thank you.