Saturday, September 8, 2012

Grace


For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  ~Ephesians 8-9 
    The photo is of the Grace building in New York City.  It is one of my favorite buildings in the city.  Grace was new when I first saw it in the late 70’s.  I still love it’s graceful white curve up to the sky.  On one of our trips into the city this summer I snapped these pictures of Grace.  The building itself has nothing to do with the following story, but grace does.
      Fiorello LaGuardia was the mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II.  LaGuardia was called “the Little Flower” by many New Yorkers because he was only five foot two and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, would go on the radio, TV hadn’t been invented yet, and read the Sunday comics to the kids.
     A story is told about Mayor LaGuardia.  One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. Mayor LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
   A tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She explained to LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted them, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving.
     But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.  She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson,” he insisted.
     LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced her sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his hat saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
     The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered, but grateful, lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren.  Fifty cents of that amount was contributed by the red-faced shopkeeper, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
    While the woman was in a desperate situation she had broken the law for which she was to be punished.  She admitted her theft.  She did not pretend she didn’t do it.  Instead of the judgement she could have gotten, she received grace. Not only did Mayor LaGuardia pay the fine for her, he also provided for her future.  The gift was freely given, merciful, and more than she deserved.  It was the action of grace.
    Consider the shopkeeper:  He had something stolen from him.  It is not always easy to extend forgiveness to someone who has wronged us.  The shopkeeper wanted her to pay the price for her crime.  The shopkeeper was afraid that if he forgave her, he would have to keep on forgiving because others would do the same thing.  Forgiveness can be costly. He was unwilling to risk it.  Proverbs 18:19 says, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”  But failure to forgive comes with a price, too, as the shopkeeper quickly discovered.
    Jesus set aside His crown, took off His royal robes, and choose to be born in a barn.  To grow and walk this earth for a time.  To teach, to forgive, to heal, to love, then to be betrayed by the kiss of a friend to a cruel death.  Not for His sin, but for mine.  That is the action of grace.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, 
 for his compassions never fail.  
They are new every morning;
  great is your faithfulness.  
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; 
 therefore I will wait for him.” 
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
  to the one who seeks him;  
it is good to wait quietly 
for the salvation of the Lord. 
  ~Lamentations 3:22- 26
        How has grace set you free?


Post a Comment
Pin It button on image hover