Epistles of Thomas

May 7, 2009

The difference between grace and entitlement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 13:48
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Idle musings of a bookseller posted this book extract the other day which is a great illustration of the difference between true grace and human entitlement.

Fred Craddock tells about teaching a class on the parables some years ago. His students gravitated heavily toward these reversal parables where the offer of grace is extended to the wayward son, the publican, the servant who took big risks, and the eleventh-hour workers. The students frowned on punishing lazy stewards or slamming the door in the faces of the poor girls who forgot to fill their lamps with oil. These seminarians, says Craddock, had come to expect grace, and hence it was no longer grace, or if it was, it was cheap grace.

Craddock told them a story. There was a certain seminary professor who was strict about due dates for papers. Due dates were announced at the beginning of the semester, and failure to meet them resulted in an F for the class. In one class, three students did not meet the deadline. The first one explained, “Professor, unexpected guests from out of state came the evening before the paper was due, and I was unable to finish it.” “Then you receive an F,” said the professor. The second student explained, “On the day before the paper was due, I became ill with influenza and was unable to complete it.” “Then you receive an F,” said the professor.

The third student, visibly shaken by the news about the fate of the other two students, cautiously approached the professor’s desk. Slowly he began, “Professor, our first baby was due the same day the paper was due. The evening before, my wife began having pains, and so I rushed her to the hospital and shortly after midnight she gave birth to a boy. So I couldn’t complete the paper.” The professor listened with interest and after a long pause said, “Then you receive an F for the course.”

The news spread rapidly throughout the seminary. A large delegation of students came to the professor to protest. “Why have you been so cruel and harsh?” they asked. The professor replied, “At the beginning of the semester I gave my word concerning papers. If the word of a teacher in a Christian seminary cannot be trusted, whose word can you trust?” The students were then dismissed.

After telling the story, Craddock asked his students if they thought it was a parable. He says most of them were angry not only with the professor in the story but with Craddock for telling it. They insisted it was not a parable. What do you think? Maybe when grace is expected or presumed or taken for granted, it ceases to be grace.

The original story is from Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories. Edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001. 18–19. This quotation is from Chuck Queen, The Good News According to Jesus: A New Kind of Christianity for a New Kind of Christian. Smyth and Helwys, 2009. 9781573125284.

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