Here I go again, rambling and raging like a broken record. But I am obviously feeling the need to do so. I think it is because I am so tired of the hardness and arrogance of those who follow Jesus, ‘theologians’ who like the Pharisees before them, set up barriers and limits to the grace of Jesus. So, as I get older, my mind forgets what it has and has not said, so bear with me as I go off on a ‘grandpa rant’ about grace.
I am learning ever so slowly, through reading Scripture and through life’s lessons, that Grace is messy.
We try and portray it as a “suit and tie, Sunday best, bonnet and all kind of thing.” But it is not. Grace is so much more, so much so that when we even try to define it…all we can do is close our mouths in humility, drop to our knees and point to the Cross.
Sometimes I used to just stare at the crucifix at Sacred Heart Church and weep. The crucifix is such a humbling example of grace: the cross and on it the most loving man in the world intentionally choosing to suffer one of the most agonizing ways to die for you and for me…for people who mock, laugh, spit, disdain, and dismiss him and his life. For in truth, Grace (like Life) is messy, disturbing and comforting.
Grace is the sex industry worker (modern day for ‘prostitute’) caught literally in the act and led away to be stoned and Jesus creating space, kneeling down on the ground, writing something, pausing with mercy, waiting…then speaking the loudest truth of all in calmness: let whomever is without sin be the one to cast the first stone. Nothing neat about that scenario; in fact, it’s kind of weird all the way around, especially the crazy grace given from Jesus to the woman caught.
What Jesus did, in and of itself was radical in so many ways: it was counter-cultural, blasphemous, renegade and illegal (in order: men did not talk to prostitutes unless doing business with them behind closed doors, only God could forgive sins, and stopping the stoning of a ‘criminal’ was interfering in the “legal” process). Messy, messy, messy…and nothing but divine grace. Jesus constantly embodied God’s love in ways that we cannot accept; messy ways, so messy in fact that we feel the need to add to it, water it down, or try and infer a different meaning into it.
I mean let’s face it: the disciples were sometimes a bunch of asinine dunces who spoke before they thought, acted with little regard to the consequences, and who sometimes were as thick as oaks, blind to the truth that they were handpicked, loved and in the perpetual presence of the awaited Messiah. And yet, Jesus loved them deeply and dearly. That is messy grace. And here is another thing to ponder: Jesus constantly allowed His followers to be in situations where they were bound to fail, and therefore would be in need of God’s grace.
Jesus is beautifully messy and so is His grace. But we are too often so concerned about what it will look like; the lofty glances at those who are different, those who don’t look like us, don’t vote like us, don’t think like us, don’t pray like us (fill in the blank). We want grace to be neat and clean. But it isn’t! It is messy. Grace is forgiveness to dope fiends and sloppy drunks. Grace is mercy in the face of undeserved mercy. Grace is a prisoner being forgiven and healed. Grace is finding hope in a drug den, kneeling over a toilet after a night of partying. Grace is sloppy, greasy, and gooey.
Grace is a bloodied, dirty so-called Messiah dangling from a cross (for our salvation), an apparent failure with every one of His followers abandoning Him except for a young one named John, His Mother, and a prostitute named Mary. There is nothing clean and tidy about that!
Messy grace is the Gospel story where Jesus knelt down and mixed his spit with dirt and put the mud in the man’s eyes to heal him. Yuck. Or in the Prodigal Son, where Jesus talks about the good Jewish boy who whores his wares away and finally ends up getting part-time work cleaning and feeding PIGS! Just what every Jewish mother hopes will happen to her son…
Grace is apparent failure, a small flame of hope in the bleakest darkness. Grace is hope in the face of utter despair. Grace is the Creator of the Universe coming to and caring intimately for us messy human beings with all our foibles and frailties.
Grace is messy indeed.
Grace is the Father running out after us, all muddy and filthy from the pig trough and the brokenness of our lives…running out and falling down on His knees, holding onto us tightly, weeping for joy that we have finally come Home.