Yes, even me.
Reading scripture can lead to that surprise epiphany when you find yourself saying, “This vast story is not done yet, and it includes even me.”.
The crux of the Bible, is to find yourself the story. I have been listening to a very wise professor, Dr. Phillip Cary, whose insights into Scripture have bowled me over because they are bigger than my own. Shallow readings of the Bible come up with a disconnected collection of stories, about family squabbles, right and wrong, people behaving badly. But eventually, you begin to see all the stories have a common theme. They call this a meta-narrative, the bigger story that ties all the others together.
One overarching theme in the Bible is that God shills for the undeserving. You know. THOSE people. We don’t like it very much when God shills for the idiots and losers. They don’t deserve it, which may be the point of the entire gospel. What’s deserving got to do with it?
There is the famous story of the prodigal son found in Luke chapter 15. The obvious villain is the brother who wasted his inheritance on hookers and cheap wine. But the story concludes with another villain we did not initially see. You can’t read the story without identifying with the older brother who stayed home, did all the stuff he was supposed to do, but got no credit. We think he deserved a thump on the back more than the brother who burned it all up partying. He was self-righteously pissed off. And that may be the point. The object of the story is all those who think their own works are sufficient to justify them. Finding yourself in the story is when you realize that maybe you are the older brother, outraged that God should have mercy on those who don’t earn it. We are big on merit, until the mirror of scripture shows us otherwise.
“… for we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared….” Titus 3:3–4
It’s like the story of Jacob and Esau, where Jacob the charlatan famously bamboozles his brother out of his birthright. The story has a lot of twists and turns as brother contends with brother. Through it all, God inexplicably blesses Jacob, the undeserving. When Esau finally catches up with his brother, it looks like justice is going to come due. But that is not what happens. Instead of justice we get mercy. “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” It’s the ending nobody expected. Esau had mercy on his brother. Like God, he loves the undeserving.
Divine election is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, the idea of God choosing people. It all begins with a covenant with Israel, the nation that God betroths just like a marriage relationship. I will love you above all others. People don’t think it right that God should play favourites. And yet, God operating in this way is relatable to anybody with a beloved or with children. Your love is the very particular and personal kind that suffers all and bears all. Think of God as a parent who doubles down on a promise for the sake of his children.
It’s how election works. God calls a few, in order to include all. It’s the arc of his original vow to Abraham, that through him all the families of the world would come to be blessed. Understanding that might help us get past issues of just who is deserving.
The last shall be first is a theme which echoes through scripture. God shilling for the underdog. It’s how the long story of Jacob the trickster ends up. He began by stealing his older brother's inheritance by tricking his aged father. In the end of his life, he blesses Joseph’s children, placing his right hand on the head of the youngest to receive the larger portion. It’s a beautiful picture of the reversal of who deserves what in the Kingdom of God.
This is really a story about those left outside of God’s initial promise. We too were outside of the blessing, until God’s enduring kindness found a way to include us, the Gentiles grafted onto the vine. We get the unexpected reversal of fortunes in the Kingdom of God. That’s why the Gospel is called the good news, because it includes even me.
“The Gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. The chief article and foundation of the Gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you take him as a gift, as a present that God has given to you and that is your own”.
Proclamation vs Moralism, Martin Luther
Martin Luther has pointed out that the Gospel is before everything else, a story. Less a list of things to do, than a tale of grace that sooner or later, calls the undeserving. Even me. It’s finding yourself in the story, late grafted onto the same vine. It’s a story that just keeps telling itself over and again, and continues on, including EVEN ME.