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