I almost got into a fight in the parking lot of my church the other day–with a grown man. I don’t know what I was thinking. Sometimes words fly out of my mouth before my brain filters them for me. And it gets me in trouble.
My husband and I were going to a concert to hear an old 80’s rock band at a venue that happens to sit next door to my inner-city church. I really didn’t want to go. (I’ve never liked rock concerts, even when I was young and now that I’m older, the steel guitars irritate me even more.) But he wanted to go so I tagged along thinking I’d suffer through and get a nice dinner out in return.
My husband parked our car in the church parking lot and so did the man. I didn’t pay this stranger much attention as we walked toward the auditorium until he set his beer bottle down.
In the parking lot.
Of my church.
You see, I love my church and it flew all over me, the utter disrespect of this seemingly negligible act. As often happens, my self-righteousness flew into action. “Really?” I said, in the most disgusted and condescending tone I could muster, not intending for him to hear me, but he did. (Not only is my mouth bigger than it should be, but it is obviously louder than it should be too.)
Needless to say, this stranger did not appreciate my commentary on his attempt to avoid arrest for open container on the streets of our town and he let me know it. “Do you want to pick it up?” he yelled at me as he turned and faced me for the first time. Lifting my chin in defiance, I stupidly said, “No, YOU should!” looking directly into his red, watery eyes. What happened next humbled me speechless.
Some husbands would have punched this staggering stranger in the face. Some would have walked away to avoid a confrontation. Others would have scolded me for not being smart enough to ignore him and keep quiet. Not my husband. He looked at the man and quietly said, “I will pick it up.”
And it was over. Words were lost on both parties. Because what do you say when someone steps in and extends grace? The drunk stranger didn’t deserve grace and this self-righteous Pharisee didn’t deserve grace either. Grace surprises. Grace humbles. Grace heals.
I have replayed that scene over and over in my head for weeks now with much regret. Within steps of my church, the church I love, where I worship the Savior that I love, I could not show love. I could not give love. Had I bothered to notice, the very shadow of the cross that sits atop the steeple stretched across the parking lot and covered us both at that moment, the man and me. The cross is enough to cover all of our depravity because that’s what the selfless and holy sacrificial love of Christ does.
My husband mirrored Christ to me in that moment. He humbled himself and loved me as Christ loves the church. And in that same moment, with a very small gesture, showed a stranger what love looks like in the shadow of the cross.