The original post and then a follow-up on what I labeled “grace grinding” has generated far more attention than I expected. There has been plenty of activity on my blog but also on others, including especially the Jolly Blogger.
I’ve been asked to give some concrete examples, and so I do so here.
The first and last word of Jesus was grace, embracing grace.
First, the scribes of the Pharisees opposed Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, evidently thinking that one could eat with the clean only if one was clean while Jesus maintained that eating with him would create cleanness; Jesus graciously welcomes sinners and tax collectors to his table (Mark 2:13-17).
Second, the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus in the temple court; the scribes and the Pharisees want justice served and want her stoned and want her ground into the dust by her actions; Jesus doesn’t. He graciously forgives her and bids her sin no more (John 7:53-8:11). [Note: the best mss do not have this text, but nearly everyone still thinks it is authentic stuff.]
Third, the Samaritan woman did not expect Jesus’ treatment and graciousness to her; the disciples can’t understand why Jesus is talking with her; Jesus knows her and bids her come to him; custom ground Samaritans into the dust (John 4:1-38).
Fourth, the Prodigal Son dishonored his father, took off with some of his father’s estate, and ruined it all with sinful living; the Older Son couldn’t comprehend why the father was so graciously forgiving when the prodigal returned home and why the father didn’t grind the son into flecks of justice; Jesus teaches that God is like that father and that he is like that father and that is why he graciously welcomes prodigals and sinners to his table for fellowship (Luke 15:1-32).
Fifth, in the parable of the vineyard workers, the astounding thing is that those who entered the labor force at the end of the day got as much as those who entered it earlier in the day; the owner paid them “what was right” (the Greek word is just); when the owner paid everyone, the early-to-work crowd protested, on the basis of justice, that the owner was unfair; they didn’t evidently care that the others made enough to make ends meet (Matthew 20:1-16). Grace, Jesus seems to be teaching, subverts what most think justice is; some demand justice anyway.
Sixth, Jeffrie Murphy, in his book Getting Even, which I reviewed in Books and Culture about a year and half ago, argues that forgiveness is far too easy for far too many, and that a sense of justice must be maintained. Murphy’s book is sophisticated, intricate, and makes as good a case as anyone for a Christian theory of retribution, and I think he’s wrong — but his study will make you think. (I hesitate to call Murphy a grace grinder because I don’t know.)
Jesus, I would argue, subverted this sense of justice and created an alternative system of grace and love, rooted as it is in a holy discontent with our sinfulness and repentance, but still a world in which humans pass forgiveness on and suspend a sense of justice in order to create that alternative world. Grace has the capacity to create newness; grace grinding resists the newness it brings.
Forgive us our sins, Jesus taught us to pray daily, as we forgive those who sin against us.
What, we are summoned to ask, would we have done had we been the victim in Simon Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower?
As for me and my house, the first word and the last word will be grace, embracing grace. Grace that creates newness.