Sunday, November 14, 2010
The Scandal of Grace
Capon reminds us that parables are not teaching devices meant to help us imitate God but rather a means to show to us the scandal of grace. We are not supposed to moralize the prodigal son story so that we all become more like the waiting father. We are meant to stand in shock and awe of such love, such forgiveness, and such raw grace -- unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. In the face of such grace, we can only admit that we are unworthy.
Our problem with the parables is that we insist upon putting ourselves into the story and moralizing the story so that it has more to do with us than it has to do with the scandalous grace of God. We are not to learn how to forgive as the waiting father forgave or how to be fair to some and generous to others who need more as we assume the vineyard owner was. We are meant to scratch our heads and confess this is not reasonable, it is not moral, and it is not comprehensible -- it is grace. Grace cannot be understood or explained -- only accepted and this is why the Spirit must unlock the heart to the wonderful grace that it may be a comfort to the heeart even as it is also a scandal to our reason. We are not given to say "now I get it" but simply "Amen" to the grace Jesus shows to us.
In another place Capon asks why Jesus insisted upon healing the man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12). After all, it was a second slap in the face of the law and the Pharisees. Jesus had already harvested and eaten on the Sabbath. The man in question had know the misery of his withered hand for years. It was not life threatening. It was not urgent. What was the big deal in waiting until sunset? Capon points us to see that if Jesus had waited, the Pharisees would have seen and understood the healing as a good dead occasioned by and the fulfillment of the commandments. It would have been approved in their eyes as a moral act and shown Jesus to be a moral teacher. That is not what Jesus wanted.
Jesus offended the Pharisees because His act of healing trumps the law and grace trumps the law every time. The scandal was not the scandal of the broken law but of grace -- how could you argue that this healing was good and yet why would God give it on the Sabbath and break a history of understandings about what the law said and required? Because Jesus was not acting as an agent of the law but of grace -- the scandalous kind.
The same can be said of the analogy of the old wine and the new wine. New wine is not smooth and mellow but pungent and sharp. It is not the predictable flavor imparted slowly, over time, but the raw taste of something new and shocking. New wine is volatile and still fermenting while the old wine is done -- it is waiting only to be drunk up and finished. These are characterizations of law and gospel according to Capon. Jesus proves to be the volatile and pungent taste of grace -- the new wine which is scandal and surprise. If He had healed after sunset, Jesus would have been identified with the old wine of the law which Jesus was not here to bring.
Yes, there is much in Capon to make you think. His writing is as raw and unpredictable as the grace he describes. This is not the kind of stuff where you read and say yes to everything (it is not doctrinally pure or morally comfortable) but it sure opens some doors to your mind and gives us a powerful appreciation of the scandal of grace.