Working as a bus boy in a restaurant over the summer, while I was a college student, I still remember people arriving to eat dinner the very minute when the restaurant was supposed to close. You watched them come in knowing that you would not "clock out" until their dinner was over, the tables were cleared, and the dishes were washed. You could not start to work around them, cleaning up the other tables, because it would make them feel pressured to finish eating and rushed to leave. It was one of those times when I was thankful that I did not have a choice. I could not choose to leave early; I had to stay.
It is hard to have a choice, relying solely on conviction, for there is a slight difference between conviction and obedience. Obedience is not always voluntary, but conviction always is. It is in conviction, though, that faith fully matures, for it is where empathy is born. In faith, there is not an earned grace, but there is an earned innocence. It is rooted in the responsibility of love, for receiving grace convicts us to demonstrate empathy to others. The maturity of grace is the empathy of love, which is why empathy is holy like grace is holy.
In the story from Mark 5, when the unnamed woman who has been suffering from hemorrhaging is healed, we see the maturity of grace as the empathy of love. There is a large crowd pressing in on Jesus, and he is trying to make his way through all of the people, but it is difficult. In the crowd, there is a woman, who had been suffering for years. She had suffered from hemorrhaging for twelve long years. She is doing all that she can to push her way through the crowd to reach Jesus.
When she gets close to Jesus, she reaches out and touches the very edge of his clothes. She reaches out for the grace of God to ease her suffering, and when she does, the hemorrhaging stops. At that moment, Jesus does not see the woman, but he feels a power go forth from him. He realized someone had touched him, so he says out loud, "Who touched my clothes?"
The meaning of that question hinges on how it is said. It could be said indignantly and with resentment because no one was allowed to to touch Jesus. One can imagine a fiery, staunch, defensive voice saying, "Who touched my clothes?" On the other hand, the question could also be asked with genuine concern, with sincere love, and with true empathy. We can imagine a voice saying with inquisitive gentleness, "Who touched my clothes?"
However, it can also be said with the same genuine grace, but with an added calling. It can be said with a grace that is sealed with conviction, where the voice is both offering grace and inviting a response, "Who touched my clothes?" When the question is asked in that manner, it says something not only about the woman's past, but also about her future.
We can foster conviction by revisiting the grace of God, allowing empathy an opportunity to grow, for the gift of grace is also the gift of conviction, where the maturity of grace is the empathy of love.
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