My friend Jacob, when he was in middle school, had an e-mail address set up by his older brother. His older brother, being, well, an older brother, gave him imthebiggestloserever@[e-mail].com. So, when Jacob would give out his e-mail address, he would have to say, “I’m the biggest loser ever.” He wasn’t. But I have to think it wore on him. A few years ago, he sent out an e-mail to announce his new e-mail address, as he was becoming a professional and a capital-A Adult and all that. It was ithinkimanokayguy@[e-mail].com. It was good to see he had figured out things enough to think he was an okay guy.
It’s something that sticks in my mind because it captures a divergence in the human experience. Some people believe that we, in relation to God, start off bad. The original sin of Adam and Eve has left a deep, dark stain on all of humanity, and it must be expiated and cleansed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We must deny our human nature, and put on the righteousness of Jesus, and work tirelessly to be good, or rather, good enough. Other people believe that we, in relation to God, are cast in God’s image, and humanity is “very good,” even if it does not always make the best choices and oftentimes breaks covenant, destroys relationships and is generally naughty. We must defy the temptations to see ourselves and others as evil or less-thans, and instead live into the resurrection of Jesus Christ and take on the garments of new life.
I think you know from which perspective I approach the good news. But I should say that I also understand the other side. It’s not a dichotomy, either; don’t let me fool you into thinking there’s only two ways to approach the relationship between God and humanity, or God and anything else, for that matter.
I bring all of this up because of this week’s Beatitude—Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. A dear friend of mine once told me “grace is getting what you don’t deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve.” There seems to be some truth in that, but doesn’t that speak to the starting points mentioned above? Do we need mercy instead of grace? Or, do we need grace instead of mercy? Or do we need both? What’s the difference? And does the difference matter?
And then, once we have it—whatever it may be—how do we be it? Or do I have that reversed? I promise, by Sunday, some of the kinks will be worked out. I look forward to seeing you then.