It was one of those heart-stopping, stomach-dropping, ‘uh-oh’ moments.
I had just moved to the Quad Cities and was taking advantage of a rare 15-minute window of time to speed home and let the dog out. I was in a hurry, so I rushed in, put the dog on her leash, and shut the front door behind us. And it locked. With my only set of keys inside.
In hindsight, this was a valuable moment in which I learned some important practical wisdom, But more than that, there was a spiritual lesson embedded in this little fiasco about the subversive nature we call grace.
My first instinct was to call the handyman who manages my duplex and ask him to bring over a spare. “I’ve got one I could drop by with,” he answered “It is going to take me 20 minutes to get there, and then I gotta drive home again. It’s my day off, so I’ll have to charge you maybe 20—no—30 dollars, I think. Cash, of course.” His response to me, though not ideal, seemed reasonable. I needed a service, he could provide one, and I would pay him for it. That is how the world generally works. Except I did not have cash on me at the time, nor could I prove I was “good for it,” so I resorted to plan B: phone a friend.
My only friend in the Quad Cities was a “friend” solely in the hopeful, presumptuous sense. I knew she worked from home and lived nearby, so I gave it a shot. Not half an hour later, I was back in my driveway with my rescuer and a key to my front door. I rummaged through my purse, hoping to find a few bills or maybe even a Subway gift card so she could finally get lunch. When I came up empty-handed, I promised her I would drop off money and food later that evening as a thank-you, but she adamantly refused. Her “No” wasn’t even followed by the conventional “that’s not necessary [but now that I have politely refused, I will of course accept].” Instead, she genuinely said, “I am just so happy I could help.”
Today, I am still touched and taken aback by her demonstration of grace. My (now official) friend did something completely counter-cultural by showing me unmerited mercy and offering me unconditional help. Her grace stopped me in my tracks.
People in Jesus’ time had similar wonder-struck reactions to the possibility of grace too. Just think of Peter and how almost outraged he was when Jesus washed his feet; or the Prodigal Son, how utterly surprised he was when his Father threw him a homecoming party instead of throwing him out; or the beaten traveler, how never in a million years would he have dreamt he’d be rescued by a rival Samaritan when even his own priest and neighbor refused to help him.
Grace was and is a counter-cultural force. The subversive nature of grace can be surprising but oh so enriching, whether you are the one giving it or receiving it. I tend to think part of the beauty and power of grace comes from the fact that it is free. As Christian people, God’s grace is never something we can merit or earn, nor is it something we can put a price tag or conditions on amongst ourselves. Grace is a gift, pure and simple.
So let me ask you this: what is grace nudging you to give this week? And what might grace open you to receive?