Inspired by John 7:40-52
“When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’” John 7:40-42 (NRSV)
The devil is in the details. Jesus’ words and actions identified him as the long-awaited Messiah, yet there were some who were ready to dismiss Jesus on the grounds that—as they understood scripture—he had been born in the wrong place. The geographical location where Jesus’ mother happened to be when she gave birth was a more important indicator of the Messiah than Jesus’ own words and actions.
It may seem silly to us, but in many ways we make some of the same arbitrary claims regarding how God can and cannot work in the world. We have our own favorite litmus tests we use to determine who is a ‘true’ Christian and who is not. Perhaps it’s a specific interpretation of how scripture addresses a social issue that didn’t exist in biblical times. Perhaps it’s a particular moral code and how strictly one adheres to it. Perhaps it’s a style of worship or piety, or the display of certain gifts of the Spirit. Whatever it is, we elevate that particular detail to an importance that outweighs all other evidence of how God might be working in this person or in this situation, and we allow ourselves to be blinded to God’s truth by our devotion to our own limited understanding.
God does not fit neatly into the boxes we create for him, and he does not follow the rules we set for him. And praise God for that, for if he did, then all of us would be denied his grace, because someone else would believe we hadn’t earned it. Instead, God gives his grace freely and generously, more freely and more generously than we may be comfortable with, but it’s his to give, not ours, and because of that, we are able to receive it despite our own limited sight and understanding.
Let us pray. God of grace, you have given us the ability to think and to understand much of the world around us. Help us to recognize the limits of our own wisdom and understanding, that we may use such gifts not to judge others, but to serve you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.