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A story of grace and mercy

June 7, 2011 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Today’s post is a story from Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. If you have never read this book, do yourself a favor and add it to your summer reading list.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of World War II, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation on his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the NYC fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”

La Guardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced his sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore, 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.”

So the following day the NYC newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and NYC policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

The good news of the Christian faith is that although we have offended a holy God and deserve the penalty of eternal separation, Jesus paid the penalty for us so that all who accept His free gift might be declared not guilty. But not only are we declared not guilty by His mercy, we receive grace upon grace upon grace from the throne: we are adopted as children of God, given the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, empowered and gifted to be a force for good in this world, brought into a worldwide family of believers, and promised an eternal home forever with God. Like the woman in Manning’s story, we find ourselves the recipients of an act of incredible mercy and grace, made rich even when we deserved punishment. That is the great and glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

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