Monday, May 9, 2011

Trampled by Grace

Today God’s grace hit me somewhere between my house and Central Square.
First it was the man in the blue vest.  You know him well if you’ve lived in Boston for any substantial amount of time; he wants you to save the polar bears or sponsor a child or support his political agenda.  He wants your time and your money.  You know exactly how to take a wide path around him, how to pretend you’re deep in conversation, to avoid eye contact or at least say a polite, “Sorry!” as you pass, which is what I did.
Then it was the woman sitting on the stoop.  You’ve seen her around too.  And if you’re like me, you all too often feel that twinge of pride as you walk by–pride as in the opposite of humility, as in “I don’t have time to learn who you are or offer a kind word or consider you better than myself.”  I smiled but breezed past.
But grace didn’t hit me then.  It was a block away.
Passing my realty office, a man about my age made eye contact and opened his mouth as if to speak.  ”Do you have a quarter?” he asked.  He gestured toward his friend to his left, but I was already mid-standard reply:  ”Sorry, I don’t have any,” I reasoned.  Could be true.  I’m usually short on quarters because I spend them in countless hungry parking meters.  Which is what he was gesturing toward to his left.  About three steps later I felt my heart drop.  How many times have I prayed for a quarter–just one!–as I pulled into a parking spot?  How many times have I dug under my seats, emptied my pockets, and longed for just that short 12 minutes to fend off the evil meter maid?  Someone was in need of something I could give, but I was too self-focused to stop and, even now, upon realizing it, too proud to turn back.
Now that whole scene isn’t all that uncommon.  It’s not unusual for me to act or not act out of selfishness and pride.  But as I walked it weighed on me like a lead vest.  I thought of the line that has been stirring me recently from a song we’ve been singing: “my sin weighed upon your shoulders,” as in the shoulders of Jesus.  I came face to face with my own, black sin, the self-love that still lingers inside, fighting to the surface, raging against all that Christ paid for and offers freely.  Frankly, my primary emotion was fear, and my first inclination to do what I could to make it right.  ”Next person, I’ll stop,” I offered, weakly.  I slowed my pace, aware of my tendency to walk right past Jesus on my way home.  But as I grasped for ways to atone for my mistakes, the unfairness of the beauty that is Grace descended upon me, so much lighter than the lead weight I’d chosen for myself.
This isn’t karma.  And I’m not judged on a scale.  I don’t get to make up for my shortcomings because the truth is, I never could.  What’s done is done, eternally.  I walked by not one, but three people in need, like some kind of inverse Good Samaritan.  I felt as if I literally ignored the plea of Jesus himself–and isn’t that the truth anyway (Matthew 25:42-45)?  I broke the very heart of God, like so many times before, and there was nothing I could do to fix it.
This is the truth of God’s amazing grace.  What I could never repair, Jesus took from me.  What is this grace He offers us?  It’s unfair.  It doesn’t make sense in the world’s system.  And it’s offensive to my flesh, which longs for some way to make things right myself, to earn my way, to be good on my own.  But there is no way but Jesus–thank you God.
So halfway home I crucified Him all over again.  And by His grace I lived to walk the rest of the way–to smell the lilac bushes on my street, to feel the breeze on my skin, to hear Him say again that He loves me–only because of His grace.

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