Katallagete! Be reconciled!
Grace then gratitude… reconciliation then justice
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Since confession is good for the soul, I must confess that I am somewhat of a reluctant participant in Lenten practices. Perhaps this says more about me than it does about Lent, but still, there is a danger, I think, in putting our sacrifices or disciplines or renewed spiritual life on the same plane as that of Jesus Christ, even if Jesus is at the top and we are at the bottom. And there is a danger, I think, in frontloading the notion that we need to ‘get ourselves right’ first, so that we will more fully appreciate, enjoy, and know Christ’s resurrection triumph later at the end. But perhaps I am just a mediocre Christian who does not want to challenge myself by giving anything up or taking anything on.
Still, we American Christian consumers that we are, like to be shown the problem and all the ways we will need the solution being offered, and then we are primed to be provided with the product that will fix everything, solve everything, transform everything, even reconcile everything. This mentality does not just play out in the world of marketing and consumer products, it does not even play out in the world of individual spiritual choices and disciplines, it has religious implications that play out in the larger church. Law first, then gospel. “Let’s impose our will and our agendas first, and then worry about reconciliation later. It’s an eschatological thing…something we can leave ‘til tomorrow.” But I would argue that Scripture offers a very different agenda… one that first works toward reconciliation and only then toward our visions of justice. Grace includes the justice; not the other way around. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not abolish the law, it fulfills it, and does not allow us put it off reconciliation until later.
Be reconciled. A generation ago, Will Campbell took such biblical commands seriously enough to work for reconciliation between factions much more disparate than our existing Presbyterian tribes, arguing that we are to first live together as those who have already been reconciled in Christ. Rather than pursuing justice and thinking that reconciliation will follow… what would it look like to flip the consumer mentality on its head by pursuing reconciliation first, then seeking justice in light of reconciliation? We might find ourselves spending less time in like-minded interest groups and more time with ‘our enemies’ and those with whom we disagree, working toward creative reconciliation rather than zero-sum will imposition. For some reason, I don’t think Jesus would have a problem with that at all.
CHRIS CURRIE is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, La.