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At best, life is a mystery to be celebrated. At worst, it is a problem to be solved. In either case, it is a topsy-turvy world of surprises. It is the experience of living with a God who is inscrutably transcendent. At the same time, this God holds out the ultimate promise of intimate presence. We read in Scripture: “I am the Savior of all peoples. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry, and I will always be their Lord.”
If I can count on nothing or no one else, I can count on God’s availability and assistance; however, I will never be allowed to be complacent in this relationship. Never will I be able to take God for granted and lapse into lukewarmness, thinking I have a handle on the God of Surprises.
This is the God who teaches us the core of life is love and the center of love is justice. Perfect love is found in total justice; perfect justice is discovered in consummate love. Interestingly, equality, as we usually understand it, has nothing to do with it.
I can remember my grammar school days, a time when I was rapidly gaining weight. My mother tried her best to help me change my eating habits.
Though well meaning, her efforts were unsuccessful because I thought I was being treated unfairly. I became angry as I watched my younger, frailer and much thinner sister receive larger portions than I. Seething, I thought to myself, “It’s not fair!” Then I used my own pocket money to buy potato chips, the large size bag. On the way to school, I’d consume the whole bag to even the score...to procure justice. That would teach them all not to treat me unfairly.
While I busily sought my version of equality with my sister, there was no way that I could find justice and love in all that my mother was trying to do for me. My thoughts were not those of my mother, nor were her ways mine. Unable to enter her mindset, I denied myself the surprise of a healthy, thinner body because I desired to be treated identically to my sister, despite our different needs. I ignored any possibility my mother was doing what was right, for me as well as my sister. Righteousness, I did not realize, could be had only in differentiation.
Those days are long gone, but the urge for that false sense of equality persists. How often do I yet look at others with envy and want to have what they have or to be who they are? I see only what I can see, know only what I know, and make determinations, not always accurately, based on those perceptions. Is it not true for nations as well as individuals?
On a trip to the Holy Land, I was struck by the omnipresence of armed guards and security checkpoints, especially in a city that was already walled and had been for centuries. Arabs, Palestinians, Christians, Israelis were all vying for equal space and ignoring the justice of perfect love. There seemed to be no thought of peaceful coexistence in this land filled with holy places and praying people. I could feel the earth itself crying out for a shalom that was being denied by humans desiring overpowering equality instead of omnipotent justice.
Jesus’ parable of the kingdom of heaven likened to a landowner looking for laborers comes vividly to mind. We—individuals, communities and nations alike—make our contractual agreement with God. We accept God’s terms and commit to life with God with its subsequent demands and rewards. As a result, we feel special, privileged, useful, and worthy besides.
Everything is fine until we begin to notice that others are joining our ranks. Any problem we have with that understanding is suppressed and coated with the belief that our reward will be proportionately greater, decided according to the time and effort we have given to the task of being good.
We resent God’s equality, which is based in generosity and seek only our own, bound in legalism and dualism. It is either yes or no, black or white, good or bad. There is only either/or in our understanding. There is no room for both/and.
However, God promises only one thing: “I will give you what is just.”
God will not cheat us, nor treat us unfairly. God will give us what we need...what we agreed to accept...what is right for us to have—nothing less. Paradoxically, the nothing less becomes unbelievably more. We can count on it. If God chooses to give us more, there can only be celebration of divine graciousness. If God chooses to give everyone more, it is none of our business. Freely God gives. Freely we receive—that is the essence of justice.
We can choose to grumble, sulk, take our pocket money, defiantly buy our potato chips, eat the whole bag by ourselves and miss the surprise of justice. Or, we can decide to love one another and come to perfection in the eternal life prepared for us. The acceptance or rejection is ours alone.
God will not reject us, confine us, bind us, or leave us idle all the day, with no care for our well-being. God calls each of us, sending us to do what we can do, when we can, and how we can. Ours is but to respond, taking note of our own commitment without comparison or contrast with that of others.
To do otherwise is only to limit ourselves, for we can never limit God. “I am the savior of all people. Whatever their troubles, I will answer their cry, and I will always be their Lord.”
The expansiveness of the promise is astounding. No one is eliminated. All petitions are heard and answered. Always God will be Lord, even when we refuse to acknowledge or agree to that rule.
The foreverness of our God boggles the mind. Generously surprising and surprisingly generous, God’s promise has been made and will not be retracted, no matter how much we might moan and groan about fairness and equality.
Divine rule is not fair. Thank God, it’s just.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives” [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.