Monday, March 06, 2006

The Scriptures, the Cross and the Power of God

from chapter 2 of The Scriptures, the Cross and the Power of God, by N T Wright, published by SPCK in 2005

The central theme is the sudden lavish throwing open of the invitation no longer to the great and good but to all and sundry. Everyone found in the streets is to be invited to the banquet. We sigh with relief. Jesus is playing our tune at last. Here is the gospel we know and love, the message of a radical inclusivity in which the doors are thrown open for all to come in. And it’s true, and it’s glorious, and it needs saying again and again.

But the point at which we can tell that we are only hearing bits of the message that we want to hear is the point where the story twists round and we confront a reality so unwelcome, so out of tune with the spirit of our age, that we move quickly to shut Matthew up, like the grown-ups shushing the child at the table who blurts out the truth the nice guests weren’t meant to hear. What about the man without the wedding robe? What about the weeping and gnashing of teeth?

This is where we meet the same point as at the end of John’s story of the woman taken in adultery. How easy it is for us to gloss over the last line. What we want to hear is the word of forgiveness: ‘No more do I condemn you.’ What we would rather not hear is the necessary word that follows: ‘Go, and don’t sin again.’

As in the Sermon on the Mount, the great blessings on all and sundry at the beginning are matched by the stark warnings at the end: some will say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but Lord will not recognise them. As in the parables in Matthew 13, the ‘good and bad’ are kept together for the moment, but ultimately separated out. Because, of course, without the warnings, grace is subverted into mere tolerance. One of the great moral and spiritual fault lines of our time lies just here. Paul puts his finger on it in Romans 6:1. If God acts in lavish grace to utter sinners, wouldn’t it be best to go on being utter sinners so that we can get more grace? Paul’s answer – Matthew’s answer – Jesus’ answer – is quite simple. Me genoito. Let it be not. Many are called; few are chosen.
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