A few days ago, I read a parable written by Peter Rollins. In this parable, Peter adds an interesting twist to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount -a speech to a group of hungry, poor and down-and-out people. Once Jesus outlines a radical new way of forgiveness by loving enemies and praying for those who are persecuted, Peter’s parable switches to Jesus as he turns to those in power and those who have authority and says, “Do not be mistaken. These words are not for you.”
Peter goes on to explain that the comforting words that many of us have grown up with seem to have been co-opted by us – the rich, the well-off, the fortunate and the healthy. It is almost as if these new and revolutionary ideas have been stolen and perverted to suit a much different audience than what was originally intended.
Now, I do not write any of this for those who are struggling. I appeal to the ones of us who seem to ascribe to the often quoted, “God helps those who help themselves!”
Somewhere along the line we have forgotten about grace…
Somewhere along the line many of us have decided that grace isn’t powerful enough so we have added something else into it…
Something much more sinister…
Something so much more poisonous – judgement.
Many of us feel like our role in “changing someone’s life” is to outline how they are doing things wrong or attempt to convict them for their wayward way of life. However, I believe there is a different way. I believe grace is enough.
Time and time again, we see Jesus offering radical grace. What’s interesting to me is that a lot of times, the people who are forgiven by him are ones who probably “deserved” punishment. Imagine, a wife walks into her bedroom and finds her husband with another woman whom he has paid. This happens every day and in our culture and it wouldn’t be surprising if more than a handful of us have known someone to have been affected by this activity.
It would have made a lot of sense to the people of the time if Jesus would have picked up a stone and stood alongside the other men as they stoned the woman to death. But before you begin to protest that this type of punishment is cruel, unusual, barbaric and unwarranted, I say not much has changed. In our time, it would still make sense for Jesus to stand with the accusers and condemn the action. Stones might seem outdated for the 21st century but insults and isolation seem very fitting. But what Jesus did next was something so unheard of in the culture of that time period and of our culture today.
He stood in the gap.
Jesus, at once, stopped the religious leaders from stoning the lady! He then began to write something in the dirt. It isn’t said what exactly he wrote, but there is an old tradition that says Jesus wrote every one of the accuser’s sins in the dirt before he said that whoever was without sin could throw the first stone. I wish I could have seen the look on each person’s face as they began dropping stones. I would give anything to go back in time and sit next to Jesus and that lady and hear him whisper to her, “then I don’t comdemn you either.”
Isn’t there something in each of our hearts that leaps when we hear stories like this? It isn’t often that we hear stories of people showing mercy and grace to those who, in our eyes, don’t deserve it. A few years ago, we heard and witnessed how the Amish community responded with unbelievable grace to a mass murderer and his family after he had murdered many of their children. It is that kind of grace that stops you in your tracks. When we read of these stories our hearts begin to seem like traitors in a body and mind filled with desires for retribution.
What would it be like if in the midst of someone’s condemnation, judgement and mistake we bent down, put our hands in the dirt they’re laying in, looked them in the eye and said three life-altering words: I forgive you.
Offering grace to someone is life changing. It isn’t easy – but it is life changing. Not only can it change the life of the one receiving it, but chances are good it will also change the life of the one giving it, too.