Grace is offensive. Plain and simple, grace is really repulsive and shocking. Or at least it was with a few Pharisees and teachers of the law in Luke chapter fifteen where they found Jesus extending hospitality to some “sinners” as he ate with them.
The Pharisee and teachers of the law took notice of Jesus’ table guests saying rather repugnantly, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v. 2). Hearing the disdain in their remark, Jesus responded by telling three parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.
Offensive Grace. . .
With all three parables, the main focus is on the one who finds. The parables would not make much sense without recognition of that which is lost but still, the lost is of less significance than the one who finds. Therefore, the point of each parable is not how that which is lost became lost but how they were found—particularly who found them. This is why Jesus interjects in the first two parables the mention of rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting (v. 7, 10) and finishes the story of the prodigal son with the mention of a celebration of the son who was lost but now is found.
As mentioned earlier, Jesus is responding to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who are so disturbed at the site of him dinning with sinners. So in telling these three parables, Jesus is defending his practice of hospitality with the sinners and looking with larger gospel eyes, defending his entire mission. That is, however, what makes grace so offensive. . . repulsive and shocking to some.
Grace is not just forgiveness of sins and a ticket to heaven, so to speak. Grace is the actual acceptance of the sinner. To offer grace is to embrace the sinner and become friends with them so that they are welcomed at the table of Jesus and treated as a family member among the household of God. This is what Jesus is doing by dinning with these sinners in v. 2, which he does elsewhere (5:30-31; 19:1-10).
. . .How Sweet the Sound!
In the sanitized Christianly world we sometimes create through Bible study, the religious insist upon the linear prerequisite of repentance before such grace is extended to sinners. They will even point to Jesus’ own mention of repentance (v. 7, 10) to insist upon repentance as a prerequisite to grace. But in the the real world, such linear order falls apart. This is not to say that repentance does not matter and is not necessary, for it is. However, repentance isn’t an event but an ongoing way of life and sometimes, people will never see the need for repentance until they have received the sort of grace that these “sinners” receive from Jesus. That is, people may never know the life God calls them to and hence, the need for repentance, unless they are first welcomed to the table, shown hospitality, and treated as a family member among the household of God.
That is what makes grace so offensive to many churches today. Because offering the expression of the grace Jesus offers means embracing the “sinners” in all their messy and sometimes outrageous ways.
May we, the church of Jesus Christ, be an expression of this offensive grace to others! May we dare to be like Jesus!