Extending Grace

I was really struggling whether to post this out of fear of possible backlash. It's easily to be misinterpreted with stuff like what I'm about to write, but I think it's necessary that we think about this. But first, an introducing story:

The only time I've seen Les Miserables [which I prefer to pronounce phonetically rather than using the correct French pronunciation] was the video of the 1998 movie with Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Uma Thurman. I really need to see it performed on stage. Victor Hugo's work is an epic story filled with quite a few theological themes.

One of the key points in the story happens at the very beginning. Jean Valjean is released from prison after nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread in an attempt to feed his sister and her children. Unable to escape his ex-convict status and find lodging, a priest welcomes him in for the night. Jean Valjean steals from him the priest's collection of valuable silverware and flees into the night. The next morning he is apprehended by the police and is brought back to the priest's house. The priest, extending grace, says the silverware was a gift and additionally gives Jean Valjean two silver candlesticks and sends him on his way. The simple act of grace transforms Jean Valjean's life.

Many people hail Les Miserables as a masterpiece. Yet many of us are unwilling to try to live out what the story actually advocates: helping people obtain redemption by extending grace. While we appreciate the story, the actions of the priest are dismissed as irrelevant to modern life. I mean, would any of us really welcome an ex-convict into our homes? I've never had the opportunity to do so, but I can't say that I would. In fact, I'm not sure I'd want to live next door to someone who's served extended prison time. Would you?

The news media has been relentless the past few months towards registered sex offenders. Part of this is the reaction to the many cases of child abduction/murder that have happened recently in the US. They have us fearing for the safety of our children [even referring people to websites where you type in your street address to find out how many sex offenders live in your area]. Just this morning I was watching a local news station which reported that a community was trying to get such a person out of their neighborhood. I suppose you could call this a witch hunt. Fellow minister Tim Reed wrote that sex offenders might be the modern day equivalent of Jesus' tax collectors and prostitutes. I think he's correct. Yet when it comes to these people, who are viewed as the refuse of our society, even Christians feel freely obligated to pile on and point fingers of condemnation.

Now don't get me wrong here: the actions of rapists, child molesters and other offenders are heinous and in-human. But these offenders ARE still human. Yet you probably wouldn't know it when talking to some followers of Jesus. There have been times that I've been with fellow Christians and have heard the following phrases spoken about in connection to such people:

"We should just kill 'em all."
"Those people don't deserve to live."
"We should just drop 'em all on an island somewhere . . ."

I think I've asked this before, but it bears repeating: Why is it that we Christians, those who should be the purveyors of grace, are so hesitant to offer grace to those who desperately need it? Without the actions of the priest, Jean Valjean would never have been able to have been redeemed. But we miss the grace. There's a misunderstood teaching that the righteous should live and the evil should die. Judgment of this is left to God alone, not to us. But we get the opportunity to emulate God by offering the grace He offers. The only thing distinguishing the blurred lines of who are the righteous and who are the evil is His grace.

And just another thought: Jesus never promised safety in this world for His followers; He actually predicted the opposite. We need to stop letting people, popular culture and media make us fearful of living our lives. Even if danger lurks around the corner, we need to fearless face the world. They can kill the body, but not the soul. Regardless how we're treated, we're commanded to love others- sinners and saints alike. Maybe you'll never meet a registered sex offender. But if you do, how will you treat them? I'm not saying you have to let them babysit your kids; you don't show them unlimited trust, but you treat them as human beings. But when the petition to kick them out of your neighborhood comes around, do you sign it?

It's easy to forget that we've all been given some silver candlesticks in our lives.