It’s the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the time when we trade our skills in civility for survival tactics. One strategy is to seek out the shortest line at discount stores. Alas, as my husband and I discovered, just like GPS directions, shortest doesn’t always mean fastest.
Sometime ago, my husband searched for the short line in Walmart. He landed behind a woman with one of those oversized kid bins that doubled as a shopping cart. This particular cart held three young children. So Jack settled in for the entertainment. What he got instead, was an opportunity to practice messy grace.
After the woman paid for her groceries and left, the clerk noticed she had left a bag full of purchases on the turnstile. The clerk grumbled to us, “If she had controlled those kids better, she wouldn’t be so forgetful.”
I tried to appease her. “You must have a lot of forgotten bags.” The clerk continued her litany about disobedient children and neglectful parents. Jack decided to act. “Moms with three young children don’t go very far very fast. I’ll track her down.” He grabbed the bag and disappeared down the aisle.
I really thought the clerk would protest. How did she know Jack wouldn’t dispose of the goods in our own car? Oblivious, the woman kept crabbing about bratty kids and misfit moms.
Later, I told Jack, “I can’t believe she let you do that. Walmart must have policies about forgotten bags. Surely they would expect that if someone forgot a sack of groceries, they should come back with their receipt to claim their items. In Walmart’s eyes, you shouldn’t have helped her.” Then it hit me.
Grace transcends the law.
Jesus tried to get that point across to the Pharisees, the experts at keeping the shoulds and oughts of life. They often criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. When Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath (see Luke 13:10-17), the synagogue ruler said to the people. “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Shoulds and oughts. There are policies you should follow, Jesus.
Grace transcends the Law.
Jesus quickly pointed to the Pharisees’ own microcosm of grace. Didn’t they have the heart to untie their donkey or ox and lead them to water on the Sabbath? Hey guys, if you have enough compassion to free your animal to get a drink, isn’t it even more important to free a suffering woman from eighteen years of pain?
Grace transcends the Law.
I wish I had remembered that several years ago in VBS. A child got a splinter in his hand. My daughter, that year’s VBS director, came to me for advice. “Do we have a nurse or EMT on staff?” I asked. One of the teachers overheard us. “You have to call the parents,” she said. “You can’t do anything until they give you permission or they arrive to take care of it themselves.”
We couldn’t reach the parents. That child sat on a pew in pain for over half an hour before his parents came at the end of the session. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t advocate digging around in a child’s hand to remove a splinter. But, if it had been a quick fix, why not? Yes, the public schools might have rules and regulations for not taking that splinter out. But the church is not the public school system. The church is about grace.And, grace transcends the law.
Grace doesn’t have a rulebook. Grace must rely on common sense, prayer and compassion: attributes you cannot legislate. Grace takes risks. Grace is messy because it chooses to get involved in messes. Grace opens itself to be misunderstood. After all, Jesus got convicted to die on a cross for his practice of grace.
Jack got it right. He practiced messy grace. Taking the bag of groceries to that tired mama was the right thing to do. And next time I encounter a child with a medical owie at church, I’m going to be more proactive in alleviating his suffering without doing him harm – even if it breaks another teacher’s perception of the shoulds and oughts.
I want to live by the guidelines of grace.