We Didn’t Earn This
May 11, 2014
“And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
There has been a good bit of conversation online on the nature of privilege as it relates to class, race, gender, and the like of late. This was spurred in no small part by an essay by a Princeton student in which he argued that privilege was less an issue of social forces than one of character – that character and values passed from generation to generation are the real driver of privilege and that he would not apologize for being a person of privilege because those who came before him had risen from difficult circumstances to make possible his current standing.
His claim is that the meritocracy at the heart of the American dream is alive and well.
The debate after the article has been a good one and has made me wonder what privilege we, as Christians, take for granted or can even claim.
One striking fact of our faith is that Easter is not a meritocratic event. Ours is not a meritocratic faith. The Christ who calls to each of us is the same Christ who offered forgiveness to the thief crucified beside him. The same Christ proclaims our forgiveness even as he forgives the soldiers and the crowds.
Christ comes among his people in the Sacraments bringing healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and new life. He does this without our ever earning it. We approach the throne of grace as equals – as those whose privilege it is to kneel before him in our weakness.
The great privilege of Christians is not found in our wisdom in accepting Christ – but in his acceptance of us. Our privilege is not in our seeing him in others but in his longing to be seen in the least and the lowest. Our privilege is not our strength but his self-offering.
The nature of a meritocracy is that those who are part of it earn their way to the top. Yet Holy Week and Easter upend any notion of earning anything in the divine economy. Its story is one of grace upon grace poured out upon those who have done all they can to reject more than they can imagine.
Christ upon the Cross pays forward all that we could ever earn in good works. Christ in harrowing Hell drives out all that we can ever earn by sin. Christ, in rising from the empty tomb, makes the fullness of God’s promise ours – he earns for us all that we could never hope to by our own strength and lavishes it upon those who are unfit, unprepared, undeserving, unwilling, unknown, and yet are ever the privileged beloved.
Our true privilege now is to share the Good News with those who long to hear of hope and scarce dream that God is longing for them to know him. Each of us is now given the charge to go out and make that grace known in our own lives. We are to forgive, to be a blessing, and to offer hope. We do this not to earn grace but as a joyful response to God’s own outpouring of love for us.
Our privilege as Christians is never earned and never repaid for we are not people of a Darwinian meritocracy but heirs, through the Easter miracle, of a Kingdom of grace.
Reflect on the surprising ways God has responded in your life. Where has grace appeared in the midst of darkness? Where has shame been transformed by forgiveness? Where has despair given way to hope? Where have you received more than you could ask or imagine? Write to or call the person through whom God has made his grace known to you.