Few months ago I was ordered to Farrell, PA, to provide staff assistance to one of my down trace battalions. Those of you who have knowledge of how Uncle Sam does business, know that you will be scheduled to fly on the cheapest and available flight, if the mission is not time sensitive. So my flight itinerary had me going from T.F. Green airport, Providence, Rhode Island to Philadelphia, PA; from there to LaGuardia airport, New York, and from LaGuardia to Farrell, PA. My LaGuardia to Farrell, PA flight was canceled and I had to wait at the airport for six hours. A direct flight from Providence to Farrell, PA would have been less than two hours. I left home at 0800 hrs, on the day in question but didn’t get to Farrell until about 0000 hrs, the following day.
So what’s the point? What does my crazy schedule have to do with law and grace or you? I remember talking to my friend as I was driving to my hotel from the airport and her response was: that’s part of the training! A month or so after this experience, I listened to a sermon by The Rev. Dr. Gammon, about Fiorello LaGuardia, a former New York Mayor, whom the airport is named after, and decided to research the history behind this man. This is what I found: Somewhere in the middle of the Great Depression, LaGuardia was the mayor of New York City. This man strived to live with the people. Sometimes, he would ride with firefighters, patrol with the police or go on field trips with orphans.
History has it that on one freezing cold winter night in January 1935, LaGuardia the people’s Mayor showed up at a night court that served the poorest section of the city, dismissed the judge on duty for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within few minutes, an unkempt old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. The woman pleaded with the Mayor- turned judge, explaining that her daughter’s husband had left, her daughter was sick, and her two children were starving. However, the grocery storeowner from whom the loaf of bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the fellow said to the Mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”
LaGuardia sighed. Turning to the woman, he said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But as he pronounced the sentence, the Mayor was reaching into his pocket. He took out a bill and tossed it into his famous hat, saying “here is the ten dollars fine which I now remit; and further more 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. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” The following day, it was reported in the City’s newspaper that $47.50 was turned over to the woman who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her grandchildren from the contributions. The owner of the grocery store himself was among those that made the contribution (I bet you a loaf bread didn’t cost 50 cents in 1935).
This woman deserved to be punished by law for stealing, regardless of her explanations as to why the crime was committed but the Mayor met the demand of the law but also showed mercy. Note that he did not discard or neglect the law. The woman was undeserving but the Mayor was gracious. We live in a culture were words are utilized without much consideration for the meaning behind those words. One of the shocker’s for me when I came to this country almost two decades ago was the way my classmates used words like awesome, terrific and the likes to describe things aesthetic in nature.
Well, if something is awesome, and terrific my mind goes to awe inspiring, full of awe, and terrifying, which are all characteristics of Yahweh in the OT and also is the NT. The Hebrew uses the word “chanun” (gracious) as attribute of Yahweh as in hearing the cry of the vexed debtor, and in so many other ways. This word for the most part is paired with another Hebrew word “rachum” (compassionate), Exodus 33:19; 34:6; Psalm 86:15; 103:8; 116:5, and host of other passages. It describes how underserving humankind was- deserving to be destroyed, indebted to sin and evil but God showed us grace. We were lost, but grace found us! The law makes no exception.
Looking at what is going on in our country today, it’s hard to see this characteristic in action. The level of hate directed against those, who disagree with our views is out of control. It is so shameful to say that this is even worst among the faithful. They delude themselves by insinuating that they are protecting the disenfranchised but they fail to reflect the God whom they claim to fight or speak for. What a travesty!
When you get up in the morning and love those whom you feel are not worth loving, you are showing grace. When you go above and beyond your duty requirements at work for the benefit of the people to whom you provide care without complaining or doing it to be noticed or rewarded by your boss, you are being gracious. When you pray for your enemies instead of wishing them death, you are reflecting God’s attribute.
Remember, we were all lost and death deserving but God’s grace found us!