I found myself on the tube the other night...fairly late...probably way past 11pm. Once again it was the ever eventful Central Line that I was travelling on...and as usual the carriage was jammed packed...everyone crushed like sardines...accept on this particular occasion most of the sardines were drunk. And quel surpris, I found myself faced with an encounter that got me thinking...
The encounter went something like this...A nice man made space for me and smiled as I clambered onto the carriage. A few moments after the tube set off, he asked me if I'd like to have his candle. His very expensive candle apparently. I was pretty knackered from a crazy couple of loooong days and wasn't in the most chattiest of moods...but nevertheless I smiled and asked how come? He explained that he had been given a candle at an event, from a very high calibre brand - but he couldn't be bothered to carry it on his night out...and he'd rather give it away to someone lovely on the train instead...(apparently). Obviously I knew he was harmless - just waxing lyrical...being a smooth operator and that..but I smiled anyway and said yeah sure. I was hoping that, this was the end of our little tête à tête, and I now could hopefully just zone out and catch some zzzz's.
He was just about to hand it to me when suddenly, his über arrogant bald headed Asian mate who was a bit too merry for his own good and clearly not happy about the rather generous, undeserved, gesture his friend was about to extend...piped up and practically started frothing at the mouth. "You can't do that!" He scoffed. "Ask her if she even knows what brand it is? Has she ever even heard of Hublot? Let her answer the question first!" Cringe galore. He was totes opinionated that's for sure. He looked at me and (with slightly hooded eyes due to his alcohol consumption) endeavoured to challenge me. "Do you even know who Hublot are?" I don't really think he was interested in my response. He graciously enlightened me. "They are a f***ing high end luxury brand!" How charming, I thought to myself. The fella was on a soapbox hardcore and he wasn't coming down for anybody.
I looked at this Asian dude and then back at the poor White guy who was just tryna be nice and explained..."mate I really ain't that fussed. I don't know who Hublot are...never heard of them...not really into brands or even into candles for that matter...i'm more than happy for you to keep your candle". Charming Asian bloke is still scoffing away as the lovely English man looks embarrassed and persuades me to please take the candle and simply ignore the Asian bloke. Okay so the situation is becoming trés awkward by thus point because Indian arrogant man is now raising his wrist in the air showing me and every other sardine on the entire carriage his £35K Hublot watch...still insisting this is a "f***ing luxury brand you know...that candle he's just given you is worth a lot of money you know". He then proceeds to tell everyone about the designer brands he wears daily...how much dough he's got...how Ilford is a S***hole - before finally adding that most schools are filled with refugees who are all apparently criminals. Nice.
Every inch of my being soooo wanted to tell this joker a few home truths about his deeply unattractive, arrogance - and his foolish love for mammon...but taking a deep breath, reminding myself I'm a Christian, I chose to ignore his alcoholic rant and talked to his nice friend instead. We talked about church, as I was on the way back from a worship night. We talked about my day teaching in a really rough school and then about his job as a McDonalds Franchise owner where he was making lots of money...with kids at private school...who just wanted to give his children what he hadn't had in life. Although I was cream cracked I enjoyed briefly chatting to him. He clearly was a nice guy and had a heart to bless.
As I got off the carriage a short while later with my very expensive candle that I actually didn't give a flying fig about, I found myself thinking about the lovely gesture that the guy who's name I found out was Jerry had carried out. I then thought about his friend who simply couldn't accept his friend's gesture of grace and didn't want me to receive this freebie until, in his eyes I was qualified enough to receive such an expensive gift. It wasn't long before he reminded me of the big brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15). I reflected upon how he also reminded me of the full day workers who had grumbled when the eleventh hour workers had got paid the same amount as them (Matthew 20). I then considered how he actually reminded me of how Christians can be towards one another. And then suddenly, dare I say it...he reminded me of me.
I was immediately convicted of those moments when I have wanted someone to qualify for a blessing...or for grace...the times that I have not rejoiced at someone's blessing of favour and instead somewhere in my subconscious I have wanted them to earn it...the moments where I have wondered why someone got blessed when in my eyes they simply didn't deserve it...those times when someone in my limited understanding and my tarnished heart had been able to apparently bypass the appropriate labour and seemingly "correct" process and get promoted in the blink of an eye...when surely they should have "proved more faithful, right?"
Or, those pitiful occasions when I have wanted someone to go through a loooong process before I felt they were faithful enough...before I felt they were worthy of recognition or praise...before I felt they were mature enough to receive the attention. Wow, Lord have mercy on me for every moment when I have resisted the work of grace and pushed the agenda of works...for every time mercy has not triumphed over judgement...for every time I simply thought I couldn't afford to be gracious...or lenient...or giving...
I mean praise be to Gawd, but the more that I have encountered and received the Love of God over the years the less I do this...because you simply can't hang around Jesus and not become merciful...gracious...tender hearted...and generous...but maaaan I have such such SUCH a long way to go. Having this encounter with the guy on the train definitely reminded me afresh of just how far I have to go...and how much I have to learn about true grace...about true love...about Christlike mercy.
And I'm not saying for one minute that faithfulness doesn't reward...faithfulness DOES 100% without a shadow of doubt bring Gods rich favour, multiplication (Matthew 25) and blessing into our lives...with God you absolutely reap what you sow...He is ridiculously lavish to those that give of themselves and those that do yield to the processes...those that do obey...those that labour...those that can be trusted...and even when you may not see the reward on earth you know hands down the reward is there in heaven...a reward so glorious and so worth pursuing.
Yet God is good all the time. He is inherently good and His grace is simply undeserving. His favour is unmerited. None of us could EVER qualify for what He has given us...For I myself am a recipient of God's scandalous grace that has so lavishly been poured out in my life even though I am not qualified in any shape or form...there is a crazy unmerited favour that has exploded my soul day in day out since I became a Christian when what I actually deserved was death. And here I am on countless occasions wanting myself and others to qualify instead of freely receiving grace. Shock horror...none of us can deem who is or isn't qualified...none of us can judge...all of us must endeavour as much as we are able to, to choose mercy over judgement.
It's simply the scandal of grace - a scandalous deed that we will continuously, on a daily basis in our lives, have the opportunity to extend to those around us...whether they deserve it or not...whether they qualify or not. And I pray that when we are next found in a situation that warrants mercy over judgement...grace over works...that we will be like Jerry just wanting to bless even though it may not be earned...rather than his friend who simply didn't recognise that he could have partook of the scandal of grace without any cost to himself. And that for me I realise is the key...often we think we can't afford to be merciful...or giving...or gracious...that somehow if we give away that which is not deserved that we will lose something...often it's a fear of losing face...or losing an important lesson...or a crucial principle...but most often than not I learn afresh that when it comes to being gracious...we simply can't afford not to.