Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Editor’s note: From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, bloggers for The Mennonite will write reflections on the Lectionary text. All eight reflections will be available at themennonite.org/lent. Sign up for our TMail newsletter and follow us on Facebook to receive the reflections.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…” I have lost count of the number of times I need to be reminded of this. I’m a big fan of the Enneagram. The Enneagram gives us nine personality types that show us how we relate to God, one another and the world. Richard Rohr says that Jesus embodies all nine types. I am an eight, known as “The Challenger.” We are probably the most aggressive of all the types. We like to lead, we like things done our way and we have no problem doing what we need to get things accomplished. Jesus embodies “The Challenger” personality when he cleanses the temple and calls folks “broods of vipers.” Eights are known for not mincing words.
I often need reminders that the unhealthy parts of my personality can put me in opposition with God. What I may feel is the “best way” may not be God’s way. The Lectionary text for this week in Isaiah has the wicked forsaking their ways, and the unrighteous their thoughts, only to be enveloped in the love and mercy of God. Me? I want people to pay. In stories, I want the “bad” characters to get their comeuppance. I want God to deal harshly with my enemies. I want justice that looks like I say it should. This is why the Psalms resonate with me so much. But the prophet Isaiah gives us a look at the tender side of God.
“…let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” The very audacity of this scripture has me saying, “Excuse me?” Mercy and pardon? I have been deeply wronged, others have been cheated, and you want to not only pardon, but “abundantly pardon?” Where is this God of justice? What of righteousness? Will those who seem to evade God’s ways again and again be subject to mercy and pardon again, again and again?
Yes, yes and yes. My enemies will be offered these mercies just as I am offered mercy and pardon again, again and again. Such is the mystery of grace, something that is often sorely lacking in my Mennonite faith. I am so focused on my own personal sense of justice, on doing the “right thing,” and mentally chastising myself when I inevitably fall short. I can fall into the trap of mental castigation so much so that I can’t begin to accomplish the good I want to do in the world. I am so deeply flawed, I feel, that others’ flaws stand out to me all the more and I want God to punish me just as much as God punishes my enemies.
According to our scripture, the word of God goes forth and does not come back until it is fulfilled. And so it is with grace. Grace flows out from our God and it doesn’t leave until it accomplishes its purpose. Its purpose is for everyone who falls under God’s care, even those with whom I disagree, even those whom I would call my enemies, even those whose acts are unrighteous.
With my “eight” personality, this is a struggle to comprehend. I pray for encounters with the Holy Spirit that remind me of my essential goodness and God’s desire for reconciliation with all of creation. This Lenten season, I pray that we all may encounter grace in a more profound way, that we may all do acts of mercy, and that we all may both pardon and be pardoned ourselves.
Joanne Gallardo is pastor of faith formation at Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana.
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