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Surprised by grace

I returned the book* one day late. I knew it was late. I could have returned it the day before, but I had a few more pages to finish. So I kept it. Kept it from the next person on the list, who had put a hold on it, whose right it was to have it. To get to start reading it. I was delinquent and I knew it.

Sheepishly, I approached the white-haired woman at the checkout counter. Producing the book, I apologized for having kept it a day past its due date. I fingered the coins in my hand, ready to pay for my transgression. The woman smiled at me as she took the book. “You’re probably OK,” she told me, “We build in a day of grace.” After scanning in my return, she paused a moment and then declared, “You’re forgiven.”

Ho-ho! How delighted I was to hear those words! I admit I had a sudden urge to ask this woman to repeat herself so I could record her on video. Thought better of this, though, and left the library, smiling broadly, my quarters still in my pocket. I’m actually not sure how much the one day fine would have been had it been assessed, but not much. Certainly, my gratitude at being excused was out of proportion with the giddiness I felt. Not at getting away with something, but at confessing that thing and being surprised by my forgiveness.

That’s the singular thing about grace that has us kicking up our heels in delight. Because we don’t deserve it we don’t expect it so it catches us completely off guard. It’s a gift we didn’t see coming. Swoops in and sweeps us completely off our feet.

Funny, this instance has reminded me of the conversation Jesus had with Simon-Peter when he was belly-aching about the extravagant love shown Jesus by a woman “who had lived a sinful life.” Jesus asked Peter to reconsider her via a parable about a money-lender who forgave two debtors, neither of whom could pay; one owed 10X the amount owed by the other (Luke 7:41-48*). Then Jesus asked, Now which of them will love him (the money-lender) more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

Well, here I am, over the moon about my small debt forgiven while I celebrate this moment of grace. Until the sinner in me realizes that now that I know there will be a day of grace extended, I will very likely be tempted to take advantage of “my extra day” as if it were mine to take rather than His to give.

Apparently, the amazing thing about grace isn’t its quantity, quality or availability. It’s that it comes as a complete and utter surprise. After that, we’d do well to keep the gratitude gig going.

*Searching for Sunday, by the late Rachel Held Evans

Debts or Trespasses?

Do we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us?

I have wondered this from a young age, probably stemming from the moment of mortification when I said “trespasses” and EVERYONE else in the sanctuary said “debts.” Who knew that people memorized a 2000 year old prayer differently? I mean, there are quote marks. Jesus only said it one way. How can it be two?

Never really considered the rightness or wrongness, until I read it from Matthew (New International Version) this morning.

Matthew 6:9-13

“9 “This, then, is how you should pray:

12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

Now that I’m a writer, I guess I read things a bit differently, but two things got my attention:

1. I’m asking God to forgive my debts as I have forgiven (present perfect tense) my debtors. “God, please forgive those things I owe you, as I have already forgiven them to others.” Isn’t it cool this is the “present perfect” tense? My forgiveness of the other allows the perfect present, God’s forgiveness.

2. Debts and trespasses are definitely not the same thing. Theologians may try to justify the “real meaning” of these words and Matthew’s intention when he wrote them, but if the Word of Scripture is living for me, it’s what they mean in my life when I read them that counts.

And debts and trespasses are different. Debts are something borrowed and meant to be paid back – a loan, a kindness, a transaction. Trespasses are lines knowingly crossed, transgressions against, boundaries violated, trounced or trampled. Debts feel forgivable. Transgressions feel permanent.

No wonder I have a hard time feeling like God would ever forgive me. How can I ever forgive those who have willingly trespassed against me? I guess I could try saying “debtors,” but I expect there’s a reason the ancient text has been passed down to me in the words I pray…

…making me especially grateful Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” ~ Luke 23:34

He must have known there would be people who, in their pursuit of knowing, would agonize over His words. Even in His agony, Christ left no doubt, “Forgive them.”

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