One of the painful things about reading the Gospel is that Jesus extends grace to people even when they need it. I know that sounds strange, but if you have hung out in churches for any length of time you know we love to sing about grace and talk about grace only until someone really needs grace. Then we suddenly become the Christians Mark Twain described as “good in the worst sense of the word.”
Jesus deliberately spent his days with flawed, broken, mortals rather than hanging out with the spiritual elite. Simon Peter and Mary Magdalene gave Jesus a daily opportunity to practice the grace he talked about. Think how frustrating that must have been. Telling stories about God being like a woman relentlessly looking for one lost coin, or a father throwing his arms around a prodigal son, is one thing, but having to extend grace again and again to disciples who never got it is something else altogether.
When grace is needed it usually means things have gotten messy. That’s why I love Michael Yaconelli’s book Messy Spirituality. After he was their guest preacher, one church put on their marquee, “Mike Yaconelli was a dangerous messy man. Our carpet is proof.”
That phrase “messy spirituality” accurately describes my own spiritual life. In the opening chapter of the book, Yaconelli writes:
What landed Jesus on the cross was the preposterous idea that common, ordinary, broken, screwed-up people could be godly! What drove Jesus’ enemies crazy were his criticism of the perfect religious people and his acceptance of the imperfect nonreligious people. The shocking implication of Jesus’ ministry is that anyone can be spiritual.
That is the scandal of grace, and nothing is more scandalous than God choosing you and me. It is so scandalous that most of us still are not absolutely convinced it is true. Oh, it MIGHT be true someday when we are older, when we have learned to control our temper or our tongue, when we get our act together. THEN we might hear God’s voice saying, “This is my beloved with whom I am well pleased.”
Self-help gurus are fond of asking, “What would you try with your life if you knew you couldn’t fail?” Well, grace means you can’t really fail! There is nothing in your life that can stop God from loving you now and for eternity.
Rev. Michael Piazza