Reading through the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy last week, a couple of Moses’ comments to the children of Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land struck me.
The first was in 7:7 and 8 where he said, “The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you.” Two chapters later, in looking forward to their entering the land, Moses cautioned them, “After the LORD your God has done this for you, don’t say in your hearts, ’The LORD has given us this land because we are such good people!’ It is not because you are so good” (9:4 and 5).
Even though the word deserve isn’t used by Moses, I was reminded of a memorable exchange between the Sheriff Little Bill and Will Munny in the movie “Unforgiven.” As Munny gets ready to shoot him, Little Bill says, “I don’t deserve this . . . to die like this. I was building a house.” To which Munny responds, “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”
Obviously it isn’t always the case, but Munny’s comment “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it” is true with regard to a lot of both the good and bad in life.
Intrigued by the word deserve, I looked up its usage in the Bible and was surprised by the number of times it occurs.
In Ecclesiastes 8:14 the teacher makes a similar observation to what Will Munny said: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve.” Those familiar with the book of Job know he certainly would agree with that.
Both Mathew’s Gospel as well as Luke’s report the account of a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his sick servant. Matthew 8:9 reports the centurion telling Jesus, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof” (and his faith is strong enough to affirm Jesus can heal his servant without doing so). Luke 7:4 and 5 tells about the same incident and how some of the elders of the Jews pleaded with Jesus, “This man [the centurion] deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”
In our own experiences, and contrary to Will Munny’s take on it, I think we all would agree that sometimes – but not all the time — deserve does have something to do with it.
One of the two thieves crucified with Jesus seemed to get the most important point about Jesus’ death on the cross without fully understanding what he was saying. Speaking to the other thief who had insulted Jesus, he affirmed, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
One of the best known verses, as well as one we are most grateful for, is Psalm 103:10 where David tells us God “does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” And the reason God is able to do that is because of what Jesus did for us. It’s called grace.
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