Just right.

Wendell Scott, taken from motorsport.com

African American NASCAR Hall of Fame driver, Wendell Scott, was quoted in an NPR interview as saying,

When it’s too tough for everybody else, it’s just right for me.

I thought that was a fantastic way of expressing the heart of heroism in facing hardships. It made me think of St. Paul’s,

I can do all things in him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:13

Nova Insula Utopia

In the first centuries of Christianity, one of the most potent testimonies to the truth of the Gospel to the pagan world was the strange courage of Christian martyrs who evidenced their rugged fortitude by pardoning their executors, singing eucharistic prayers to God as they were burned or offering their spilled blood as seeds sown for the life of the world.

The 3rd century Christian author, Tertullian, in his Apology, describes Christian behavior and reveals the bewilderment of pagan Romans in the face of a Christian ethos.

There is no buying and selling of any sort in the things of God. Though we have our treasure-chest, it is not made up of purchase-money, as of a religion that has its price. On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are, as it were, piety’s deposit fund. For they are not taken then and spent on feasts, and drinking-bouts, and eating-houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God’s Church, they become the nurslings of their confession. But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. “See,” they say, “how they love one another;” for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. “How they are ready even to die for one another;” for they themselves will sooner put to death.

An anonymous Christian author of the 2nd century A.D. penned a defense of Christianity referred to as the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. With simple eloquence, this letter describes for pagan readers the remarkable subculture created by this new faith in “the Word,” Jesus Christ.  Here he describes some of the paradoxes of that novelty:

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

For this author, the emergence of such extreme newness in history is no mere incidence of gradual socio-cultural evolution, but a flash of lightning, an irruption of heaven into earth:

For it is no earthly discovery, as I said, which was committed to them, neither do they care to guard so carefully any mortal invention, nor have they entrusted to them the dispensation of human mysteries. But truly the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the invisible God Himself from heaven planted among men the truth and the holy teaching which surpasses the wisdom of man, and fixed it firmly in their hearts. Not as any man might imagine, by sending to mankind a subaltern, or angel, or ruler, or one of those that direct the affairs of earth, or one of those who have been entrusted with the dispensations in heaven, but the very Artificer and Creator of the universe Himself, [the Word] by whom He made the heavens, by whom He enclosed the sea in its proper bounds, whose mysteries all the elements faithfully observe, from whom the sun hath received even the measure of the courses of the day to keep them, whom the moon obeys as He bids her shine by night, whom the stars obey as they follow the course of the moon, by whom all things are ordered and bounded and placed in subjection, the heavens and the things that are in the heavens, the earth and the things that are in the earth, the sea and the things that are in the sea, fire, air, abyss, the things that are in the heights, the things that are in the depths, the things that are between the two.

Him He sent unto them.

Bearing the charity of Christ into a violent and hate filled world is, for Christians born of the Artificer’s all-surpassing design, “just right.” Our dystopian world of sin and death is rife with countless opportunities for manifesting the utopian Kingdom of mercy and new life that Jesus inaugurated. People of faith are invited to fill the earth with their strange courage, first stammered before angels and men by the parched tongue of a gasping God.

Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” — Luke 23:34

“Crcifixion,” Matthias Grünewald, c. 1520, taken from massexplained.com

2 comments on “Just right.

  1. […] If you care, click here: https://nealobstat.wordpress.com/2015/02/07/too-tough-just-right/ […]

  2. Jennifer Eileen says:

    So this is what is on my heart right now.

    I read the quotes from 2nd and 3rd with a sense of awe at the witness of the early Church. In general, my pulse quickens at the telling of the bravery and courage of the glorious martyrs. I long to be heroic as they are. I dream of the honour it would be to lay down my life in such a huge magnificent, headline-grabbing display of love pushing back against hatred and persecution!

    But in my real life I grumble too much. My default is to roll my eyes at the whining over who got more ice cream in their cone; to reject the offer of my three year old’s help with cracking the eggs because he gets more shell than egg white into the bowl; to bark back at my nine year old who is angry that his pencil keeps breaking – “if you didn’t insist on slamming your pencil onto the desk in anger maybe it wouldn’t break.” Martyr? Who am I kidding. Most days the greatest offering of love I can muster up is to add a little more ice cream, pull up the chair for the little guy and hand him the eggs, or offer the frustrated homework completer a hug, a pencil sharpener, and a prayer of blessing upon him. And really, it feels like a major victory, and then it feels completely puny and insignificant. Which it is, BUT, God’s amazing grace and mercy, his steadfast love somehow takes my puny little mites and turns them into glorious treasures, not for who I am but because of who he is. And he takes those little victories offered from a poor prideful, navel-gazing sinner who is trying her (embarassingly pathetic) best but really not having much to show for it, and somehow that enlivens me to not pat myself on the back but to be able to endure greater (miniscule) things and offer more to him. That he transforms me from thinking of myself and how I would like to choose how to glorify him, and instead leads me to think increasingly less of myself and more more to those beautiful people he has given to me to be able to love, that he lets me glorify HIM through suffering in such a ho-hum way. And I stand humbled and amazed and so relieved that he is God and I am not. How spectacularly great is he? How incredible is this God who loves us so much and gives us the dignity of letting us love him in return? How unfathomable that he meets us in the mud and thankfully and joyfully accepts the little sufferings we have to offer him?

    “Bearing the charity of Christ into a violent and hate filled world is, for Christians born of the Artificer’s all-surpassing design, “just right.” Our dystopian world of sin and death is rife with countless opportunities for manifesting the utopian Kingdom of mercy and new life that Jesus inaugurated. People of faith are invited to fill the earth with their strange courage, first stammered before angels and men by the parched tongue of a gasping God.

    Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” — Luke 23:34”

    Maybe that is how martyrdom is achieved, in a million tiny offerings of courageous love, of seeing the world as rife with opportunity to love and be witnesses.

    Thanks as usual for sharing the good news with us all! Blessings to you and your family 🙂

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