We typically talk about the grace of Jesus with warmth and gratitude. And I do feel those things from time to time. But 2017 was a year where his grace haunted me more than anything else. Haunt. To be persistently and disturbingly present.
Earlier this year, Jesus and I had a conversation about grace that intrigued me. Nothing offends a religious spirit more violently than grace. I naïvely asked him to let me see this grace that would offend my religious heart. I was anticipating revelations of grace for the people around me that I was quite aware did not deserve it. I was most certainly NOT anticipating that I would be the object of grace that would offend me.
If you’ve been around me in the past month, you might have heard me use this analogy. It has been to my horror to discover that the way I feel about my Broken Heart is exactly the same way the Dursley family felt about Harry Potter. Hidden in a closet under the stairs. Treated with the utmost contempt. Not to be seen or heard. Especially when guests come over. They hate Harry Potter for all that he is. And I have hated my Broken Heart for all that she is. Because if she had been better, prettier, funnier, more interesting, less needy, she wouldn’t have broken us. Broken me.
And so a Civil War has been raging inside of me between my inner Harry and my inner Dursley. And I would like to believe I could hide the Civil War. But I know that it is actually so loud that the neighbors, the strangers passing by on their evening walks, they hear every word. Which only infuriates Dursley even more, because Harry’s very existence ruins the proper image they long to cast to the outside world.
In the five years that I have been aware of the Civil War, Jesus has never (to my knowledge) taken a side. And so the war goes ever on and on. But a few months ago, Jesus began to teach me about grace. And I asked him to let me see. And so, one day, he took a side. He made his home in the closet under the stairs. He came in waving a pennant that, to Dursley’s horror, had “Team Harry” woven across the fabric. And all at once, silence.
I’ve been bamboozled. Jesus froze the Civil War in its tracks and began a new Civil War, this time in the heart of Dursley. How could he choose a side? This wasn’t what I meant when I asked to see grace. And how could he choose Harry’s side? How could my Dursley, who acknowledges the authority Jesus carries, continue to wage war against Harry when it is no longer just Harry? To war against Harry is now to war against Jesus. To hate my Broken Heart is to hate Jesus. He warned me that the hatred I feel towards her is the essence that was in the hearts of the people who murdered him. And all of the sudden, I have no idea what to do with all of my hatred.
It is so reminiscent of the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. Thrown in front of the crowd in the middle of Jesus’s sermon, the Pharisees demanded that he pick a side: her or them. Grace or Law. They know what the Law says. It was the perfect set up to finally prove that Jesus was the heretic they knew him to be. But his response completely disarmed them. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. No one had the audacity to launch, and the stones dropped one by one from their hands to the earth like redemption rain.
We see sides in the Gospel stories. Pharisee and tax collector. Older brother and younger. Zacchaeus and the grumbling crowd. The woman and her accusers. And we think we are supposed to pick a side. So we demonize the Pharisees. We hate the older brother. We try to disassociate ourselves from the side Jesus was obviously against. But this year has turned that notion on its head for me. Because I am beginning to see that we humans are complex beings. We can’t escape from the fact that we are both sides.
We are Pharisee and tax collector. We are older brother and younger. We are Zacchaeus and the grumbling crowd. We are the woman caught in adultery and the accusers demanding her death. We are sheep and goats. We are wheat and tares. We are sinner and saint.
The Gospel of Grace is that Jesus saves us from ourselves. He sees the Broken Heart that I had hoped to hide in darkness under the stairs forever. But darkness is as light to him. We cannot flee from his presence. And I am simultaneously infuriated with and relieved by this gospel. His grace soothes me and burns me. His gospel heals me and haunts me.
I’ll finish with a poem. Because why not?
Labels keep things simple
So we label him
And we think to ourselves
At least I’m not like him
But until we see the Judas
In our own hearts
We are actually
Than Judas ever knew