My oldest daughter was born with a strong sense of justice. Some of her most common vocabulary words were, "it's not fair!" And, while this may have had some selfishness at the root, I also recognized as time went on, that the anger she struggled to control, was based on the inequities of the world around her. Spending time with a neighborhood friend, whose father verbally abused her, would bring her home under a dark cloud.

Being human seems to imply a sense of fairness, an awareness when things are out of balance. Easy to see when we're the victims of unfair play, we might require training to notice when others are getting the short end of the stick. Still this sense of justice, of being equal, forms the basis of our constitution and our judicial system.

So far, so good. But in church yesterday, I was reminded that although we need to be grounded in the basics of justice and fairness, we should not remain in that paradigm. Jesus calls us to be lovers, following the over-the-top generosity of his Abba God. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 20:1-16. In this parable, an employer heads to the local marketplace to hire day laborers for his vineyard. His hires do not stop at the beginning of the work day, however, they continue until it is almost time for the whistle to blow. When it comes time for the men to receive their pay, he pays the latest arrivals (whose work was probably no more than an hour - and done in the cool of the day, our priest reminded us) the same amount as the ones who had begun their workday at 6 am, toiling through the midsummer heat. The early birds grumble, commenting that they should deserve more than the latecomers, but the employer silences them with the comment that as the money (and the farm) is his, he is within his rights to dispense with it as he sees fit.

What struck me as we were reading through the scripture was this phrase. "He went out again at about nine in the morning, and seeing others idle in the square, he said to them: ‘You, too, go to my vineyard and I will pay you what is right," (NIV). Here is something to ponder. The workers who put in a full day's work are not bad guys. They are totally within their rights to notice the inequality of the wage structure. In the paradigm of fairness, what the landowner does is not right. But the landowner, standing in here for God, has a different sense of what is right. The rightness of love goes beyond that of fairness, and moves toward generosity.

Jesus points this out in another way when he tells the scribes and pharisees, to go and figure out what it means for God to desire mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice is based on justice, and while a major part of the Old Testament way of life, only a stepping stone to God's true longing, bringing people into a relationship of love. Justice and mercy are not in conflict, however. God does not do what is unjust, in order to extend mercy. Notice that the men who labor in the vineyard for a day receive a day's wage. This is just. But the men who have not been hired, are not penalized for their condition. Instead they are placed in a new system of payment - one that is not based on justice, but rather on generosity.

I've mentioned before a website called People of the Second Chance whose header is
"Overthrow Judgment, Liberate Love." The People of the Second Chance aren't against justice, so much as aware that it is not enough to pull the world into the liberating and freeing energies of love. Without justice, we would be adrift. But justice is not enough, it is not, in God's eyes, truly right. Followers of the Jesus way are encouraged, even commanded!, to go beyond justice, embracing mercy. We need to be on the lookout for those opportunities that we have to fill cups not just to the brim, but to overflowing. And we need to celebrate this quality of God's whenever we see it on display.

 
 
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Yesterday I found a website that is helping me understand a passage from Julian of Norwich. The website, entitled "People of the Second Chance," features blogs written by people who have hit rock bottom, yet somehow were able to accept the radical grace of God and start again. As part of their mission statement they state: "We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage  them as a source of strength and character development."

The passage I've been pondering from Julian of Norwich comes in chapter 38 where she says:

"God also showed that sin shall not be shameful to man, but his glory; for in the same way as God's justice gives every sin a suitable punishment, so God's love gives the same soul a joy for every sin."

Punishment for sin makes sense to me as a part of justice (I see it in the cause and effect language), but what does it mean for God 's love to give the same soul a joy for every sin? What the website shows in a powerful way is that people who have made a mess of their lives (and in some way, we all fall into this category) are the greater recipients of God's grace. Because their soul is truly broken, they can do nothing else but rely on God's rescue and restoration. 

When Dan and I were first married, I discovered a broken tea cart in my mom's attic. It had been given to my mom by a family friend, someone I'd known and loved, and one of the wheels, walnut like the rest of the table, had been shattered into several pieces during a move. My mom put the pieces in the attic, not willing to part with the table, although  despairing of it ever gracing the dining room again. But I knew that Dan's grandfather was a whiz at repairing antiques, so I asked if we could have it and see what he could do. You can probably guess the end of the story, and the tea cart has been with us ever since. In showcasing the ability of a family craftsman it is doubly a "graceful" piece.

There's a lot of grace in the work of Julian of Norwich, more perhaps than many of us might be comfortable with. The God she describes refuses to blame us for the things that cause suffering and pain in our lives and in the lives of others. This God sees that we, like the table, cannot help the face that we are broken. It doesn't make the brokenness any less painful, any less "wrong," in the sense that it causes distress. The truth stands, and some amount of culpability is acknowledged. And yet there is some way in which God accepts that this is the way things are, the way things had to be (sin is necessary, Julian has stated earlier). God prounces with accuracy the state of affairs (judges rightly) and then stands willing and eager to show his re-creative ability, his restorative powers, so that what was thought useless could become in time useful again.

Later in the passage, Julian says: "and then God brought cheeringly into my mind David and innumerable others of the old Jewish Law, and in the new Christian Law he made me think first of Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, Thomas of India and Saint John of Beverly, and also innumerable others: how they are famous in the church on earth with their sins, which are not shameful for them, but are all turned into glory. And therefore our kind Lord gives us a partial vision here on earth of their perfection in heaven; for there the badge of their sin is changed into glory."

How many of us, I wonder, live some part of our lives in shame? We know that we have shortcomings, or that we have wounded those around us. We feel that we have used up what grace might have been doled out to us. And so we shuffle along, refuse to open up certain doors, shun relationships that would expose our weaknesses.

The People of the Second Chance are committed to shouting down that doomed way of thinking, to gently, but boldly open the walled-up closets of our secret sins and usher in the light of grace.The people who share their stories have found a new source of joy. Like Julian, they know that grace is endless, and for those who are humble enough to receive it, there awaits a badge of glory - a testament to God's love and ability to make all things well.