instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Worthy is the Lamb

Peter Nixon writes about what the life of St. John of God suggests about our sense of worthiness:
I may be stretching this a bit, but I think that what ended up happening with John of God is that he moved from a sense of his unworthiness based on his own failings to a sense of his unworthiness based on his understanding of God’s love for him....

To pray that we might be "worthy of the promises of Christ" is not, like John before his spiritual breakthrough, to pray for our own moral perfection. It is to pray that we might be fully opened to the stunning, overwhelming, inexplicable and entirely gracious love that God pours out on us and that we may be able to love like that in return.
Worthiness is a quality of a person or thing that in some way justifies the bestowal of a certain honor. Scripture often refers to God's praiseworthiness and trustworthiness. Of the Evangelists, Luke seems most concerned with the idea of being worthy -- or rather, with not being worthy: John the Baptist is not worthy to untie the thongs of Jesus' sandals; the centurion is not worthy to receive Jesus under his roof; the prodigal son is not worthy to be called his father's son; Jesus warns His disciples that who is not trustworthy will not be given more and better, and that merely following commandments is the action of a unworthy servant. Luke does record a few examples of worthiness: the faithful servants who are worthy of five or ten cities (tempered by the example of the wicked servant worthy of nothing); those "deemed worthy to attain to the coming age."

In the Gospel of Luke, then, worthiness is almost always expressed in the context of servitude: a servant recognizes he is unworthy of reward; a master acknowledges a servant as worthy.

One of the great hymns in Scripture refers to the worthiness of the Lamb:
Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth....

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.
The Lamb did more than turn ten coins into twenty coins. He was slain, and with His blood purchased a kingdom for God. In so doing, He becomes worthy to receive honor and glory and blessing.

This is the worthiness of the Christian disciple, by resemblance to the Father's Son, the Lamb that was slain. It's not simply the worthiness of servitude writ large, though. That worthiness is based on justice; the worthiness of the Christian disciple is based entirely on an unmerited grace given out of God's love for us.