Every year at Christmas, my family and my wife’s family watches It’s a Wonderful Life (rumor has it that my father-in-law might be George Bailey). If you have never seen the film don’t stop reading, but do yourself a favor and watch it. Sorry if I spoil a thing or two, but even upon seeing the movie for the 28th time, it’s still good.
Anyway, in Frank Capra’s film, the main character, George Baily, comes under tremendous financial stress and is going to take his own life. In steps his guardian angel, Clarence, who saves George by having George save him from drowning. Still, George voices that he wishes he had never been born. His wish is granted. What follows next is a series of Twilight Zone-esque encounters where George is unrecognized by the people he has shared his entire life with. No matter what he says or does, they don’t know him. After being regarded as a stranger by his own wife, George, returns to the bridge he was going to jump from with a contrite heart. That is when his friend, Bert the cop arrives. He recognizes George, notices his bloody lip, and undoubtedly smells the alcohol on his breath. But George rejoices at being known and being seen, regardless of how much of a mess he is at the time.
That sequence in the movie came to mind as the three readings blended into a comprehensive whole. These three readings that really bring together two things: the knowledge and recognition of God and our need to be seen in our mess. Hosea tells us, “For it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” To know God and recognize him destroys our self-righteousness. When I see the Lord’s goodness, recognize his plan, and hear his call to more I can’t stand as the Pharisee setting myself apart from the rest of humanity. For to know the Lord is to know that He does not set us apart from our brothers and sisters, but sets us apart for our brothers and sisters. We do not serve a God of isolationism, and this George Bailey discovered when he realized how wide of an impact his existence had.
Thus, if knowing God strips away my self-righteousness, I am left standing before the Lord as I am. This often means offering the Lord nothing but a contrite spirit, like the tax collector does in today’s gospel. This comes with the peace and joy of knowing I am seen, even in my mess.
We have a God who longs to look at us with our busted lip and all the other mess. And when we ask him, “Do you know me?” he responds, “Of course I know you. I’ve been looking all over for you.”
As Lent continues, make an effort to get to know our great and wonderful God a little more, so that we can stand before him known, loved, and forgiven. From there, go out to show his face to the world. Amen.
– Spencer Hargadon
(Dedicated to my grandparents, who touched so many lives, even more than George Bailey.)