The Scandal of the Particular

Jesus had no trouble with the exceptions, whether they were prostitutes, drunkards, Samaritans, lepers, Gentiles, tax collectors, or wayward sheep. He ate with outsiders regularly, to the chagrin of the church stalwarts, who always love their version of order over any compassion toward the exceptions. Just the existence of a single mentally challenged or mentally ill person should make us change any of our theories about the necessity of correct thinking as the definition of “salvation.” . . .

Jesus did not seem to teach that one size fits all, but instead that his God adjusts to the vagaries and failures of the moment. This ability to adjust to human disorder and failure is named God’s providence or compassion. Every time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to have with us. Just the Biblical notion of absolute forgiveness, once experienced, should be enough to make us trust and seek and love God.

But we humans have a hard time with the specific, the concrete, the individual, the anecdotal story, which hardly ever fits the universal mold. So we pretend. Maybe that is why we like and need humor, which invariably reveals these inconsistencies. In Franciscan thinking, this specific, individual, concrete thing is always God’s work and God’s continuing choice, precisely in its uniqueness, not in its uniformity. Duns Scotus called it “thisness.” Christians believe that “incarnation” showed itself in one unique specific person, Jesus. It becomes his pattern too, as he leaves the ninety-nine for the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). Some theologians have called this divine pattern of incarnation “the scandal of the particular.” Our mind, it seems, is more pleased with universals: never-broken, always-applicable rules and patterns that allow us to predict and control things. This is good for science, but lousy for religion.

— Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, p. 56-57

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