Doubtless you have heard the story of former New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia and the grandmother on trial for stealing bread. Apparently, one night La Guardia visited a night court in the poorest part of the city. As the night went on the mayor took the bench himself. At one point a case came before him of a grandmother that stole bread to feed her grandchildren. La Guardia said, "You are guilty, and I have to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail." But he did not stop there. The mayor pulled the ten dollars out of his pocket and paid the fine. The story also goes that La Guardia fined everyone in the building for living in a city where a grandmother has to steal bread. As they passed the hat around the woman left the courthouse with her fine paid and some $47.50 in her pocket.
This is an excellent picture of the gospel. We are guilty and the story does not deny that; in fact it confirms it. La Guardia did not lower the standard he considered the grandmother guilty--just as we are before God. Yet, just as in the story the Judge Himself pays our fine. And it is not only our fine that is paid but he also blesses us abundantly. There have been few better sermon illustrations on the gospel.
Yet, I wonder if the story would be different in our culture? Instead of declaring the grandmother guilty and paying the fine; she would probably have just gotten off without punishment, left acquitted, but still had nothing in her pocket. In our culture we sometimes do a good job overlooking offenses...but we have little concept of justice. One thing missing from our culture is the idea that "The fine must be paid". And because of this we also miss the deep truths of grace.
Yesterday, my wife went to the shopping mall. While there she decided to get our son's hair cut. At the salon (little boy's should go to salon's should they?) my wife found a great deal on shampoo that she loves to use. It is normally pretty expensive, but this deal was two hugemongous bottles for $15. When she went to pay for it, I guess she read the sign wrong or something. It was actually going to be about $30. That would have definitely meant no shampoo. But the cashier decided to be nice and went ahead and sold it to her for $15.
Now, is this grace?
Yes, sort of. But really the cashier (who is only an employee) is only stickin' it to the man. That's not really her decision to make. The price has been set, it must be paid. If she really wanted to give grace then she would have gotten $15.00 out of her pocket and paid the other half. But instead she said, "oh, just call it even". And this is a missing element of the gospel in our culture. Without an understanding that "The fine must be paid" grace becomes cheapened and almost mandatory. And as we know grace that is mandatory is not really grace.