Saving Grace from Our Rot

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A preacher recently encouraged his congregation to adopt a spirit of service. How do you do that? Easy.


Through discernment, he explained, the Holy Spirit draws us into service on behalf of others. It begins with prayer to help us recognize situations offering us the opportunity to save others from marginalization. The preacher offered examples of people on the margins, involving good people in need of a good person.

But what if salvation involves saving a not-so-good person who wants your car, not your care?

Recent headlines reported a spate of car-jackings happening in major cities across the country. The perpetrators threaten violence if their victims don’t relinquish their keys and car. It all happens so fast. The victims don’t get to discern what led these people to such a desperate act requiring at least as much energy and premeditation to execute as an act of service would. ARE they desperate for healing or are they just evil? Before answering, consider this Sunday’s Mass readings.

They sandwich St. Paul’s discernment (2 Tm 2:8-13) about his own role in saving us from such spiritual rot between dramatic examples of rot rooted in the body.

In ancient times leprosy scarred the body AND soul of its sufferers. They were shunned and isolated. Many, like Naaman in our first reading (2 Kgs 5:14-17), even felt isolated from a God who would cause such an affliction in him. But at the Prophet Elisha’s direction, Naaman was healed. Naaman was so grateful he wanted to repay the prophet. This man’s discernment of God’s presence in his life was the only repayment Elisha would accept.

It’s seemingly better compensation than Jesus received for healing TEN lepers in Sunday’s gospel account (Lk 17:11-19). Only ONE returned to discern the source of his healing. But this former leper’s saving grace would potentially be in sharing with many others the faith that saved him, resulting in a kind of discernment contagion.

This contagion is a cycle represented in the Holy Trinity to this day: God the Giver (Healing), God the Gift (Healer), God the Grace (Gratitude).

Now back to the carjackers.

Consider the case of another preacher—and his wife, who was also a preacher. We say was because the carjackers killed her during their escape. How does a man—even a preacher—apply grace and forgiveness to heal himself, let alone those who tried infecting him with their own strains of spiritual rot?

The tendency of grace to backfire and heal the healer explains how. Just as Jesus was gratified by the return of the grateful leper, discernment gave this newly-minted widower the grace to publicly forgive and pray for his wife’s killers. Since he couldn’t share that grace personally with his attackers, he paid it forward to his congregation of fellow sufferers and to those who witnessed his forgiveness virally online. The result of this infectious discernment was, hopefully, widespread peace.

The Holy Trinity’s cycle of grace was made complete despite and maybe because of this evil act. The attackers? Maybe they’re rotting in prison, or maybe the time they’re serving will eventually teach them to discern the meaning of service to others.

–Tom Andel

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