Robert Capon Rewards the Rewardable and Improves the Improvable

Psych! Another batch of Gospel bombs from Robert Farrar Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, […]

David Zahl / 11.3.11

Psych! Another batch of Gospel bombs from Robert Farrar Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, a few of which may sound familiar:

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive every one who is indebted to us.” The Gospel truth is that forgiveness comes to us because God in Jesus died to and for our sins — because, in other words, the Shepherd himself became a lost sheep for our sake. And it is just that truth, I think, that Jesus underscores when he holds up the forgiveness of debts as the model for our imitation of his forgiving. A person who cancels a debt is a person who dies to his own rightful possession of life. Unless he does it out of mindlessness or idiotic calculation, he cannot write off what is justly due him without accepting his own status as a loser, that is, as dead. Death and resurrection are the key to the whole mystery of our redemption. We pray in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we forgive others in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we attempt any of those things while still trying to preserve our life, we will never manage them. They are possible only because we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). And they can be celebrated by us only if we accept death as the vehicle of our life in him.

It is just this insistence, as I see it, that leads Jesus to the last phrase of the prayer, “and do not lead us into trial.” Life is a web of trials and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life. But that will never work. If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its ways there. (pg 222)

For Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to reward the rewardable, improve the improvable, or correct the correctable; he came simply to be the resurrection and the life of those who will take their stand on a death he can use instead of on a life he cannot. (pg 317)

Let us make an end: as long as you are struggling like the Pharisee to be alive in your own eyes–and to the precise degree that your struggles are for what is holy, just, and good — you will resent the apparent indifference to your pains that God shows in making the effortlessness of death the touchstone of your justification. Only when you are finally able, with the [tax collector], to admit that you are dead will you be able to stop balking at grace. (pg 344)

The Gospel of grace must not be turned into a bait-and-switch offer. It is not one of those airline supersavers in which you read of a $59.00 fare to Orlando only to find, when you try to buy a ticket, that the six seats per flight at that price are all taken and that the trip will now cost you $199.95. Jesus must not be read as having baited us with grace only to clobber us in the end with law. For as the death and resurrection of Jesus were accomplished once and for all, so the grace that reigns by those mysteries reigns eternally – even in the thick of judgment. (pg 355)