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~ The Many Houses of God, Part Two ~

(To appreciate a fuller meaning of this Reflection, please read Part One .)

In my high school and college years, I was given the honor and gift of talking directly to a few Jews who survived the Holocaust. Still bearing the tatooed prison numbers, they were quite elderly then and maybe dead now. That genocide will soon be relegated only to writings, and with that comes the history revisionists who already are leaving their distortion of reality for our children to sift through, trying to decipher what really went on. Already well known are the stories of the self-sacrificing heroes of all nationalities.

But I know the six women with whom I spoke did not put their memoirs on paper. All of them spoke of things that would not be politically correct (or religiously correct), and thus overlooked. One of them was how the prisoner prostitutes and gypsies had "hearts of gold" when it came to helping these six Jewish women of respectable family backgrounds and moral living stay alive so they could, among more important things, speak to people like me.

In the Old and New Testaments, women of "ill-repute" served God and Christ with more self-sacrificial zeal and attentiveness than I have. Like for King David, Christ held a special place for them in His heart. Strangely enough, He chose a couple of them to first witness His resurrected Self and spread the news to His male disciples, who, naturally, did not quite believe them and had to see for themselves. Thomas was not the only doubter, despite his unfortunate label. Interestingly, only the males were recorded to have been in doubt. The women (most of them of "ill-repute" except His mother, Mary) were instant believers. Jesus knew how to turn the Jewish perspectives regarding morality, law and gender upside down! He did it to teach us all something about ourselves.

It's quite a popular and religious correct thing for us to recite the mantra, "God looks into the heart, not the outward appearance." Teachers and preachers have taken that into diametric directions. Those of us who present an approving, respectable outward appearance may be harboring secret, shameful sins of the heart, fearing exposure because it may "ruin" our "testimony" and cause harm to the faith of others in both Christ and His identified followers. Those of us who haven't been so faithful in our outward presentation and behavior but know our spirit (heart) is very willing may find consolation in God's penchant for giving greater merciful weight to our hearts on the scale with our "flesh" as the counterweight. Those who do both, exhibiting purity of heart and physical behavior, are typically canonized (acknowledged) as "saints" by the Orthodox Churches, perhaps because it is a rather rare achievement among us billions of humans throughout two thousand years of Christendom. And also perhaps because those people merit our modeling and study.

After he expounded on the great work of Elijah, the prophet who had the supreme honor to be called to Christ's transfiguration to "discuss" Christ's mission, and will be called again to be one of the two witnesses in the end times (see Revelation), St. James reminded us, for good reason, that Elijah was a man, "just like us." Just like me? I am tempted to doubt that. Yet the Old Testament record speaks of his human foibles and God's calling him to task on them. When I read about that, then yes, I can say Elijah was just like me, and I can add Peter's fear-induced denial of knowing Jesus during His arrest and kangaroo trial into the mix of what I am like. You can even throw me into Thomas' world, who told his fellow followers of Christ, "Unless I physically touch Him, I can't believe He is alive." And thanks to the grace of Christ, I am given the honor of physically touching Him.

That's why I need (not just enjoy) my time in creation, be it in forested mountains, in thick swampy wetlands or the ocean surf. That's why I need (not just enjoy) to walk barefoot on the earth from early Spring into late Autumn, even when the cold and terrain hurts a bit. That's why I need (not just enjoy) to write these Weekly Reflections and pray outside through all the seasons and weather. I need to touch the Christ in His creation. (Are we not all drawn to the "magic" of campfires and water flowing through streams and rivers or crashing on ocean beaches?)

To me, our Maker did not just leave His magnificent signature in creation to be a "witness" to His existence. The scriptures cited above support the reality that "all things are held together in Christ" and that He is present in all things. And if that is so with "all things," it must be especially so with all people, even those we despise for making mistakes, for hurting us, for "leaching" from us, for giving us "bad examples" of how to live, for managing their mental, emotional and organic physical afflictions in destructive ways. Yes, Jesus told the prostitute who was dragged before Him as a test of the Jewish law to entrap Him, "Go and sin no more." He predicated that, however, with the joyful sound of, "Where are your prosecutors now? They are not here to judge you. Neither do I." And so I am also joyful to stand next to the guy in the back shadows of the temple who can only tap his chest (the part over his heart) saying over and over, "Please be merciful to me, a sinner."

He wasn't saying, "A ex-sinner" or "A recovering sinner" or "If you show me mercy I will sin no more." The cross. We tend to overlook that there were three of them. The three must go together to fully understand the middle one from which Christ hung. The guy on one side of Jesus was still an arrogant mocker, despite his intense pain in the face of his slow dying. I know many of us humans are on that side. On Christ's other side was a man whose outward appearance was certainly no noble "testimony" to anyone at that time. He was a convicted, death-sentenced prisoner of the state. No glory to anyone. He even admitted his guilt, asking for no mercy.

All he asked Jesus was to "remember" him, meaning his despicable life, his mistakes, his guilt, his merited consequences. That man probably never stood in the back shadows of a temple asking God to be merciful to him. He was satisfied to only be remembered by the Maker of all. Christ transcended the man's despicable outward appearances and told him, "Today, you will be with me in paradise." What, no "closure" for the man's victims? No "community service" in hell for reparations of his sins against heaven? A bypassing of requirements for baptism and conversion? No requirement for the verbal confession and remorse of crimes against humanity? Just "remember me" and that's it? What kind of justice is that?

That is the justice of our Maker. Stranger yet, two thousand years later we remember that nameless man as a wondrous testimony of Christ's love and being. How many of us are more like him than like the pre-conversion Saul (St. Paul), who, while presiding over the execution of first martyr Stephen, was beyond reproach in matters of law, morality, ethics, religious observations and civil behavior? How salvific and what great news (i.e. the gospel) it is to be "remembered" by Christ!

And let us remember a little play on English semantics: To be "remembered" is to be "re-membered" or "made member again." So who among us doesn't believe in miracles and grace? 

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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