Prayer of the Day: God of compassion, you have opened the way for us and brought us to yourself. Pour your love into our hearts, that, overflowing with joy, we may freely share the blessings of your realm and faithfully proclaim the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
Brian was a young exchange student from England majoring in engineering. But in the middle of his sophomore year, he began experiencing chronic pain and fatigue. After undergoing numerous tests, Brian was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that had ravaged his kidneys. Though the disease was brought under control with medication, Brian’s kidneys were beyond healing. The young man was placed on dialysis. At this point, one of his teachers, a young professor in her third year of teaching, underwent testing to find out whether she might be a potential organ donor for her student. When the results confirmed that she was indeed a match, she volunteered to donate one of her kidneys to Brian. The resulting transplant was a success and Brian returned to leading a full and active life. This story is true, though the names have been changed in the interest of protecting the privacy of those involved.
One can’t help but be inspired by the young professor’s generosity. But how inspiring would it be if, instead of a promising young engineering student, Brian had been a high school drop out with a long history of addiction. What if his kidneys had been done in by years of drug and alcohol abuse rather than an autoimmune disease? Would such a generous and costly sacrifice move us to the same admiration? Our would we wonder about the sanity of the donor? Certainly, there must be other matches far more deserving.
Yet, as Clint Eastwood’s character, Bill Munny says, “Deserves got nothing to do with it.” Those of you who have seen the movie, Unforgiven know that Munny, being a cold blooded killer, means simply that what happens to us is not tied to whatever we think we are entitled. The universe deals out famine, epidemics, hurricanes and personal tragedy without a thought to what anyone deserves. Experience bears that out every day. Children are killed by drunk drivers, innocent civilians are killed in military conflicts of which they want no part and the cat throws up all over the carpet just as the guests arrive. Saint Paul, however, applies this concept inversely to God’s love for creation and the people God calls to make known that redemptive love. The world might appear to be hopelessly caught in a spiral of spiritual, economic, environmental and political destruction. The church might seem a far cry from the Body of Christ Paul insists that it is. Neither the world nor the church seems worth God’s investing so much of God’s self. But this world is the one for which God sent God’s Son and the church is the people called and chosen to make that wonderful gift known. “Deserves got nothing to do with it.”
The same principle seems to be at work in Jesus’ selection of disciples. This is a motley group consisting of a terrorist dedicated to ending by whatever means Roman occupation of the Promised Land, a tax collector enriched by collaborating with Rome and some fishermen who were just trying to make a living and stay out of the way. As we discover throughout the gospel, these are people of “little faith,” people slow to comprehend Jesus’ parables, people obsessed with being “great” in the kingdom of heaven and quick to abandon their Lord when their support is needed most. There were probably many others as or more deserving of inclusion among “the twelve.” But “deserves got nothing to do with it.”
I know something of undeserved grace. I was about as unpromising a student in high school as the twelve were unpromising prospects for discipleship. My grades hovered at and sometimes dipped below “C” level. My only interest in college was avoiding the draft in the event the Vietnam war dragged on past my eighteenth birthday. So I sluffed my way through Ms. Boyers’ “bonehead English” class during my freshman year, fully expecting to be placed in the sophomore equivalent the following year. Much to my surprise, however, I discovered upon my return to school in the fall that I had been placed in honors humanities. This had to be a mistake, I reasoned. Ms. Boyer informed me that it was no mistake. “Peter,” she said, “you are lazy, your spelling is awful and your penmanship stinks. But you have a brain. You can be much better than you are. So I saw to it that you got placed in honors. Now, don’t embarrass me.”
I don’t know exactly what Ms. Boyer saw in me. But her decision to place me in honors humanities was literally life changing. In that class I discovered a passion for learning that put me on a trajectory leading into two rewarding careers. There were, no doubt, plenty of students (probably most of my class) that showed more potential and were more deserving of that spot in honors humanities than me. But as it turned out, “deserves got nothing to do with it.”
We don’t get what we deserve in life. That is common complaint, but it shouldn’t be. As the anonymous poet says, “There ain’t no one should have the nerve/ To say they ought to get what they deserve.”
He shuffled in out of the rain and sleet
leaving in his wake puddles of dirty
water on the floor from the melting slush
on his booted feet.
Behind the counter the haggard waitress
turned her back against the freezing wind
That came uninvited through the door he’d left ajar.
She muttered “Jesus!
Why can’t you shut the door?
Don’t you know it’s cold as hell?
It costs enough to heat this joint,
Without having to heat
the whole damn city as well.”
The harsh rebuke was lost on him.
He took his seat at the counter,
fumbled with the menu
half speaking, half singing
the words to a vaguely familiar hymn.
“Mary’s favorite,” he said,
turning toward the waitress on his stool.
She, for her part, kept her gaze on the grill.
She had no time to pass with this garrulous old fool.
“Loved that old song,” he declared in a husky voice
so loud and so intrusive was his talk,
That patrons in the booths along the wall
Stopped their hushed chatter and looked up.
“Keep it down, will you?” she snapped.
“You don’t have to broadcast to the whole damn world you know.”
“Sorry,” he replied, in no quieter tone.
“I’m so confounded deaf these days I can’t hear myself.”
“Well I can hear you fine.
And so can everyone in the room.”
“Now my Mary,” he began…
But to begin is as far as he got.
“Look, Chuck, I’m busy.
I got customers, tables and food.
I don’t have time to chew the fat.
Don’t mean to be rude.”
He stammered something about having to go,
Got up from his stool,
Put on his hat
And trudged back out into the snow.
The waitress stared straight ahead
The deep purple neon sign
Reflected off her glossy black hair,
Illuminated the crusty makeup on her pale face
And gave a surreal glow to her chalky, white skin.
“Kind of rough on the old coot, weren’t ya?”
An old fat man with an unlit cigar in his mouth
Sauntered out of the back room.
He sat himself down a shabby chair
Behind the counter.
A resentful silence was all the answer he got.
“Seems to me,” he went on, “the guy is just lonely.
Let him talk a minute or two
and he’ll move on, like as not.”
“He ain’t the only one that’s lonely,”
The waitress replied.
“And he treated ‘his Mary’ like a dog
Right up to the day she died.
Now, of course, he misses her.
Says he wants her back.
I bet the hell he does.
But it’s too damn late now, Mack.
He’s a lonely ‘cause he’s a bastard
And he’s been one all his life.
He didn’t deserve Mary
And there’s no woman so bad
As deserved to be his wife.”
“That may well be,” the fat man said.
But let the good Lord sort that out once we’re all dead.
Fact is, there ain’t no one should have the nerve
To say they ought to get what they deserve.”
 Unforgiven, 1992, Fill written by David Webb Peoples and produced by Clint Eastwood.