THE RULE OF GRACE: “Pay back what you owe!” Those sharp words in the Gospel of St. Matthew on the Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time can cut deeply into each one of us! Continuing on the theme of last week’s Gospel on forgiveness, Jesus gives a parable about a man who forgives a debtor only to discover that this same forgiven debtor is exacting revengeful repayment from a poor underling with those demanding words, “Pay back what you owe.”
What makes this parable so powerful is that – in the spiritual life – none of us can pay back what we owe. It’s all grace. This aligns tightly to the consecutive second readings between the Fourth of July weekend and this upcoming 9-11 Sunday where St. Paul carefully explains the difference between the “rule of law” and the “rule of grace.” Jesus establishes a rule of grace. He expects us to do the same. He forgives us. He expects us to forgive. In the spiritual life the phrase “Pay back what you owe” makes no sense because – in Jesus – we could never pay back all that we owe. It would be too great. The “rule of law” gives way to the “rule of grace.” We are loved – utterly and unconditionally loved – loved way beyond our worthiness or our “pay grade.”
As we watch the leaves begin to turn from bright green to golden yellow, I wonder what would happen if we contemplated the interior color change of being utterly and totally loved? Would we not then see, the teachings of the Church – especially the steep demands in sexual morality and social justice -- as unique ways attempting to give ourselves unconditionally to Jesus as Jesus gives himself to us? Would not rules, then, become tools for our human excellence and the flourishing of our parishes? Would we not better become the “person of Christ” we are called to be as priest of God serving as Christ’s head? Would our lives not begin to imitate the beautiful artistry of becoming an “icon of Christ?” Would not our priesthood imitate the priestly action of Christ at the Eucharist in his dying and in his rising?
I – for one – am grateful that I cannot and need not “pay back what I owe,” because – like you – I am aware that being a priest bishop means that what I have received is so much more than I can ever pay back. The best I can do is give myself to my early morning rising with my fidgety self clutching a cup of coffee and hanging onto the psalms, doing my best in my service to you and to the people of this diocese a simple return of myself for all God has given me.
Although the demands can be steep, I remain grateful for your prayers. Kindly know of my prayers for you, your growth in holiness and your desire to give forth all God has given you to those you serve. Here’s is but another weekly sample of what we offer to God in return for all God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ, in union with the Holy Spirit.