January 2018 Reflection by Dr. Dapaah
“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (2 Cor 8:1-5, NIV)
In the novel Brothers Karamazov, Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky narrates a story about an old, wicked peasant woman who died without leaving behind a single good deed. She was so selfish that everything she did was for her benefit alone. She illicitly acquired whatever she could without giving anything to anyone, no helpful deeds for her community, not even a kind look or smile on her neighbors. When she died, the devil seized her and plunged her into the lake of fire. Her guardian angel wondered what good deed of hers he could bring up to plead for her before God. “She once pulled up an onion in her garden,” said the angel, “and gave it to a beggar.” God then told the angel to take that onion, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her grasp on to it and be pulled out into Paradise. The angel ran excitedly to the woman and held out the onion to her. “Come on,” said he, “take hold and I’ll pull you out.” The angel carefully began to pull her out. She was almost out when the other sinners in the lake, realizing what was happening, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. Remember, she was an unkind woman in her lifetime. So she started screaming and began to kick them. “I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.” As soon she said that, the onion broke and she fell into the lake where she has been burning to this day. So her guardian angel wept and went away.
This is a wonderful story that speaks to the human condition! The story isn’t about how to get into Paradise as much as about how to avoid hell-not that fiery lake at the end of the world’s history, but the hell in the here and now, whose flames include greed, selfishness, self-gratification, pride, indifference, exploitation, exclusion, and the like. We are all innately selfish, doomed to self-destruction without the grace and generosity of God. God, personified in the guardian angel, is immensely good even to the wicked. God seeks to save us and weeps when we are desperately stuck in our sin and refuse His gift of grace.
No life worth living is possible without generosity. Yet, it is not by our generosity, however slender, that we are saved. The Apostle Paul understood this paradox when he wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God-not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Our generosity comes from God: a God who gives and forgives; a God who created us to find fulfillment as we share His love with others. May we be generous as the Macedonian believers! And may we follow the example of the Creator God who visited us during that First Advent over two thousand years ago and generously gave Himself up for us so that we might live!