Homily St Mary’s Marlborough, 17th February 2019, 8.00am
Third Sunday before Lent: Jeremiah 17: 5-10 & Luke 6: 17-26
Both readings set for this morning speak about what it may look like to be ‘blessed’. In the passage from Luke’s Gospel, hardships in this life – poverty, hunger and suffering – are contrasted with rewards in the life to come: great is our reward in heaven. I guess, in isolation it is a confusing message for us: for those who on the whole have led a life in which we have been well-fed, not without a roof over our heads, and a reasonable amount of happiness.
However, it will be very different to hear this passage when you are poor, when you have not got enough to eat, or when your life has consisted of more suffering than many of us can imagine. In those cases, this is not a threat, but a message of hope and consolation: a message that tells us that ultimately justice will prevail.
It is that sense of justice that is important when we think about God, and the relationship between God and His creation. For me, personally, the God I encounter in Scripture, in my life and the lives of others, is a God of love; a God of forgiveness; a God who welcomes me despite my frailty and shortcomings. So, the question is, can we hold together the unconditional love and forgiveness with a sense of divine justice?
This is one of the fundamental questions of our faith, and it will be hard to address it in a few hundred words – so I hope you didn’t have your hopes up. Instead of thinking how justice and love are compatible for God, let’s assume for now they are and wonder what this may mean for us. The Jewish rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it very succinctly by saying that “The more we believe that God punishes the guilty, the more forgiving we become.”
The more we accept that ultimately judgment lies with God, we will become more free to accept our situation for what it is, and thereby able to forgive those who have caused us hurt. This does not mean condoning injustice, but it means accepting that we are limited in our capacity to bring about justice. The most important thing that we can do is speak the truth and forgive when we need to.
That is why I think that in a way our reading from Luke’s Gospel can be summarised by one verse from our reading from Jeremiah: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord”.
Just as we are limited in our capacity to bring about justice, so also are we limited in our capacity to determine our own fate and that of others. Again, we have a responsibility to strive for equality, fairness and a sharing of what we have. However, as soon as we accept that whatever the situation, God – who is both loving and just – can be trusted, we become more free to do what we can, without worrying too much about what we cannot do.
We all know times in our lives, and in the history of humanity, where forgiveness and justice seem to be at odds. It is a difficult process to reconcile them, and we continue to work through it individually and as societies.
To some a trust in God may seem like giving up on trying to strive for fairness or justice ourselves, as if this life wouldn’t matter. However, I don’t think that this is the case. Because, if we know where our trust is – where our values lie – will we not be more able, rather than less, to transform our own lives and those around us? Knowing our limitations will enable us to do better what we can and must do: love one another, as God has loved us.