HYMN FOR LENT 2 There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy
Updated: Mar 26, 2022
Text: Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) Tune: Lizzie Shove Tourjee Estabrook (1858-1913).
1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.
2 There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good. There is mercy with the Savior, there is healing in his blood.
3 But we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own, and we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.
4 For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
5 If our love were but more simple, we should rest upon God’s word, and our lives would be illumined by the presence of our Lord.
REFLECTION The lesson for today from Luke 13 meditates on Jesus’ questioning the disciples about the tower of Siloam and the eighteen who died when it fell. This has always posed a difficult question for many. Jesus asks them whether those who perished deserved to die because of their sins? Is there no rough justice for sinners? Or more troubling: do people suffer bad ends without deserving them? In his parable of the barren fig tree he complicates the question. The tree is barren and unfruitful. Farmers like the man in the parable do not like barren trees. They take up space and clutter the ground. But the vinedresser pleads for another year of tending the tree, giving it yet another chance.
Jesus does not answer the question of who caused the deaths of those who perished in the tower of Siloam. He leaves that unanswered. An answer that we crave. Who caused this, we ask in the face of tragedy and horror. If we say the devil, we give him too much power and less to God. If we say God, we make God the author of evil. It is the old question, if God is all good, how can he be all powerful? If God is all powerful, how can he be good? We may be asking that now as we face evils we had not supposed could be on the world stage: Where is God? And what is he doing? Why aren't the perpetrators of evil suffering for their deeds?
Jesus cuts through the question—don’t ask who did this, but rather, make things right with God and others. We always seem to ask the question that is irrelevant. While you are pondering whose fault something is, you are delaying attention to your own soul. Repent, Jesus says, or you will perish. Look at your own heart.
He then tells a parable of his infinite mercy. He is the vinedresser, pleading for yet more time to make us fruitful, to repent. “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”
God’s longsuffering patience with us is something to behold. Sometimes we don't like it, especially as we ponder the sins of others. “We make God’s love too narrow/By false limits of our own.” Yes, we may think we are fruitful and look at others to see their faults and expect they will meet their deserved end and punishment soon, or at least hope they will.
Our cancel culture is rather like that. We look at other’s faults, for the speck in their eyes, while missing the beam in our own. Someone who has transgressed is not just accused, but pilloried, hurt and ruined because they are not 100% clean. The Christian faith has been helpful in building just societies because it has taught everyone that they are sinners too. Evil runs through every heart as can grace. It makes us less likely to reach out in our own righteous anger against another sinner.
Of course there are thousands of exceptions to this. Christians hardly
have an unblemished record here; but deep in their hearts Christians ask the question of the disciples on the night in which Jesus was betrayed: Is it I, Lord? Our whole faith is built on the truths of that night, when Jesus, knowing he would be betrayed, denied, tortured and crucified by those he was dying to save, gave his body and blood for us. He looked down from the cross at the rabble taunting him with words they did not know were true, "He saved others; let him save himself." Christ must have marveled at our barrenness and lack of fruit. And yet, he endured to the end. For us. Look into your own hearts now, not at others. You will find there much to be sorrowful for. Give it up to him.
Fredrick William Faber, the author of “Faith of our Fathers” was a convert to Catholicism. His Huguenot forebears had fled France for England. He was born in Yorkshire, England. While his family tradition was Calvinist, he was raised as an Anglican. Educated at Oxford, and a priest in the Church of England, he was persuaded by the arguments of John Henry Cardinal Newman who left the Anglican church for Rome in 1845. He worked closely with him at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. he had come to love the treasury of hymns the English were developing and wanted Catholics to have songs to sing as well. The hymns he wrote were intended to give Catholics hymns that were suitable for their worship. The Catholic bent in them did not prevent Protestants from taking them into their hymnals, with a little revision here and there. His works were published in 1862 in his collection called simply Hymns. There are many tunes for this hymn.
LINKS Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral https://youtu.be/raMn2iV9x2E
Christ Church Cathedral Choir of Oxford https://youtu.be/Jq6NdOsCdOU
Choir of Jesus College Cambridge https://youtu.be/gM1ijdRa7Ls
Nate Macy https://youtu.be/XwbNWs6yn0c