Genesis 21:8–21, Romans 6:1–11 & Matthew 10:24–39
Our spiritual reflection for this week contains a story about ‘grits’, a dish of ground maize boiled with water or milk, that is commonly served in the southern states of the USA for breakfast. In the story, we find a Yankee (which is American slang for someone from the northern states of the USA) travelling through the rural South one day, who stops by a country cafe for breakfast. He orders some coffee, juice, bacon and eggs. When his breakfast arrives, it has a pile of white stuff sitting alongside the eggs. He asks the waiter, “What’s that?” The waiter replies, “Those are grits.” The Yankee says, “But I didn’t order grits.” The waiter looking perplexed, hesitates for a moment, and then says, “Mister, you don’t order grits; grits just come.”
The reason the story is told in the reflection, is to illustrate the nature of God’s grace. Grace is a gift freely given by God, a gift that is not asked for, but which flows to anyone who is open to receiving it. Christians believe we are brought into a right relationship with God and with one another by the grace of Jesus Christ. The letter to the Ephesians puts the matter plainly: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
And just what is grace? Grace is God’s unmerited love for humankind, given because this is the essential nature of God. Grace also defines our own essential nature as human persons: we are beloved of God. Grace is love freely given, not dependent on anything we say or do. In the words of the story from the reflection, “We don’t order grace; grace just comes.” And while God’s grace may be a gift, which is freely given to us by God, that doesn’t mean that it comes without a cost.
The Apostle Paul famously wrote in the Letter to the Romans, “But now, separately of the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, bearing witness by the law and the prophets, now the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ to all those believing.” What Paul was saying, is that we have been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus – BUT HERE IS THE CATCH – as long as we believe. We are expected to believe that God has in fact been revealed to us in and through the person of Jesus.
That doesn’t mean that God withdraws his grace from us if we don’t believe; it just means that if we choose not to believe, then naturally we choose not to receive His grace. It’s the same as the story of the man being given grits with his breakfast. He didn’t order them, but he was given them just the same. Whether he chooses to eat them or not is entirely up to him. The point is, they are not withdrawn from him. So it is with God’s grace. If we accept God’s grace, and believe that God has revealed Himself to us in Jesus, then it is beholden upon us to follow the teaching and example of Jesus. And this is where there is a cost associated with God’s grace.
For example, we know that in some countries of the world Christians are still persecuted and killed on account of their faith. And while we may not face the ultimate cost for our faith here in Australia, we know that people from a secular background can sometimes be hostile or antagonistic towards Christians, especially in light of some of the scandalous history of the Church. These people cannot understand how someone can profess faith in an institution that has behaved as badly as the Church has done on occasions throughout its history.
Jesus alludes to this in today’s gospel passage, when he tells the disciples that just as people have spoken ill of him, so too will they speak ill of the disciples simply because they are his disciples! In the same way, people today who speak ill of the Church may also speak ill of us, simply because we are members of the Church. And these people may even be our friends or members of our own family! This is the point Jesus was making when he told the disciples that he had not come to bring peace to earth but division.
We mustn’t take these words of Jesus literally to think that he came to intentionally cause division within families and among friends. He was merely using the tactic of hyperbole to make his point, which was that choosing to be a disciple of his may have consequences; that it may in fact lead to a breakdown in relationships with family and friends. We may have even experienced this ourselves, or perhaps we may know someone who has.
But Jesus tells us that, as difficult and upsetting as this may be, we shouldn’t let it dissuade us from accepting God’s grace. For he tells us that God cares for even the most insignificant creatures in His creation, and that if he cares for them, then how much more will He care for us who He created in His own image.
The story of Hagar and her son Ishmael from this morning’s reading from the Book of Genesis is a further reminder of this. At the request of his wife Sarah, Abraham cast out into the wilderness his concubine Hagar, and Ishmael, his son by Hagar. And when her water had run out and she was still wandering in the desert Hagar, fearing for the death of her son, wept and cried out to God. Then God provided water for Hagar and promised to make a great nation from Ishmael, and Ishmael became the founding father of the Arab nations.
So let us remember that we are beneficiaries of the gift of God’s grace; that we have been reconciled with God through the death of Jesus, in whom God revealed Himself to us. By believing in this we choose to accept God’s grace, and we choose to follow the teaching and example of Jesus, even though at times that may prove costly to us. But we do so, safe in the knowledge that God is with us now, and forever.