Saturday, December 4, 2010

Transformed by Grace

One of the famous Aesop’s Fables tells of a Wolf who was drinking at a spring on a hillside. Looking up, what should he see but a Lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. “There's my supper,” thought he, “if only I can find some excuse to seize it.” Then he called out to the Lamb, “How dare you muddy the water from which I am drinking?” “No sir,” said Lamb, “if the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me.” “Well, then,” said the Wolf, “why did you call me bad names this time last year?” “That cannot be,” said the Lamb; “I am only six months old.” “I don't care,” snarled the Wolf; “if it was not you it was your father;” and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up. But before she died she gasped out: “Any excuse will serve a tyrant.”

The philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, saw human relationships much like the wolf and the lamb. He said about the human condition that “Man is wolf to man.” Or perhaps closer to our own vernacular, we know it can be a dog-eat-dog world. Looking at our world, we can sometimes get the impression that there are two kinds of people, wolves and lambs or as we might say, oppressors and the oppressed. The dividing line between these groups runs through gender, ethnicity and race, social class, wealth, power or even religious affiliation. Invariably one group appears to be the wolf and the other the lamb.

Isaiah, in our first reading, is keenly aware of this state of affairs. He gives us an image of the that is precisely in terms of wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, lions and calves, bears and cows, noting that the way of things seems to be that the wolf eats the lamb, the leopard the goat, the lion eats the calf and the bear the cow. This image shouldn’t surprise anyone – it is the way of the world; it is natural. Anyone who’s ever watched “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel knows there are predators and there are prey. That’s how nature works. If that’s all Isaiah had to say, it wouldn’t be terribly interesting. What is interesting is that Isaiah is not concerned merely in the way things are or have always been but instead he is interested in the way things can be. Isaiah is a man of vision. And here he recounts his vision of the day of the Lord when God will manifest his glory through all the world. In that world, quite contrary to the natural order, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

“Impossible,” you might say. “Isaiah is dreaming. This can’t happen because it is in the nature of the wolf to eat the lamb.” But that is exactly Isaiah’s point. Just as it is impossible, in nature alone, for the wolf to live in peace with the lamb, so it is impossible for us, according to our base nature alone, to live the life of harmonious coexistence in the world as envisioned by Isaiah. To find that peace, a radical transformation is required. We must be transformed! If we are to put behind us the base dog-eat-dog instincts of our world, we must be transformed by God. And all this is only possible if we open our hearts to God’s grace. God’s Grace alone transforms our weak nature.

Think of the Eucharist for a moment. In this miraculous moment, God’s Grace transforms simple bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus. In a technical sense, that is unnatural too. Bread and wine do not ordinarily or naturally transform into flesh and blood. For this to happen, it requires a transformation, or transubstantiation, that God’s Grace alone can bring. And if He transforms that simple bread and wine, how much more He desires to transform us as well – if we let Him. God’s grace transforms human nature so radically that even what seemed impossible before becomes possible now – “understanding puts an end to strife, hatred is quenched by mercy, vengeance gives way to forgiveness, enemies begin to speak to one another, those who were estranged join hands in friendship, and nations seek the way of peace together.” This is the glorious reality that Isaiah describes.

Isaiah doesn’t hope we merely “tolerate” or put up with” the other. God’s peace is not merely an absence of war or violence or hatred or friction. No. It is a true peace of harmonious living based on justice and the mutual recognition that everyone equal in God’s sight and so should be equal in our sight. This only happens when we open our hearts to let God’s Grace transform the natural into the godly. As long as we continue to claim to be “more equal” than others because of our status, wealth or power; there will be no true justice and no lasting peace.

We are called today to ask: do we operate on the principle that for us to win someone else has to lose? The survival of the fittest, strongest, wealthiest, famous or powerful? The vision of the Kingdom of God to which Isaiah invites us today is founded on the principle that we can all be winners if we are all transformed. Let us be the “voice that cried out in the desert.” Let us surrender to God’s Grace so that we can be transformed and thus transform the world into the very Kingdom of God.

May God give you peace!

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