If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Amazing Grace

Some of you might know John Newton’s history. He was a degenerate 18th century captain of slave ships. His crews stuffed the holds of his ships with men, women and children who hardly enough room to sit amongst the filth and sewage and accompanying illness on his ships. To Newton, the deaths of some slaves on board were simply the cost of doing business. But then God got hold of the man whom we know best for his hymn that begins this way: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see." I recently heard of a church choir director who didn’t like the word, “wretch.’ She thought it sounded too harsh. Too critical. Too deprecating. So as her choir practiced the hymn for the following Sunday, she had them change to word to something she considered kinder. As I prepared to write this essay, I went to the dictionary for a definition of ‘wretch.’ The word describes a “person of despicable or base character.” Like John Newton. Or, for that matter, the great St. Paul – who spoke of himself this way: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.” “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18-25) The problem with too many people – perhaps especially Christians – is we do not like to think of ourselves as God thinks of us: Wretched in our sins. Like the spiritually impoverished choir director, we don’t like to think of ourselves as too awfully ‘bad.’ We just do things that are wrong. But our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, did not die an excruciating death for people who just do things that are wrong.  He died for wretches. Like you and like me. There is great, great danger in our attempt to minimize our own darkness. In glossing over our wretchedness, we remain ignorant of the intimately PERSONAL reason for Christ’s sacrifice. Here is how Jesus described the danger of minimizing the depth and breadth of our sins: “One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.” “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” “Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”(Luke 7:36-47) If I’d been at that choir rehearsal, I’d have rehearsed for her the Lord’s closing statement: “Her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” In other words, those who are forgiven much by the Savior love Him that much more. But those who think they don’t have much to forgive don’t feel the need to love the Savior much – if even at all. It’s good -- it's necessary -- to recognize our wretchedness, for without such knowledge we can never mature in our understanding of God's forgiveness of those wretched sins because of that Cross. And will we never gain an intimate understanding of what John Newton meant when he wrote: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

No comments: