grace jealousy.

I started writing this post over three years ago but never got very far. However, this thought has come back to me a lot over the past several weeks I thought I’d finish this half-baked thought.

Plus, today’s my birthday and I have been a bit nostalgic, thinking of the things I wish I had learned earlier, the things I’m so grateful I’m learning now, the things I am willing to stand on tables for, and the things that I just don’t have the energy for anymore.

One of the things I’m willing to stand on tables for is advocating for the marginalized, the oppressed, those-whose-voices-are-silenced, those whose dignity is constantly being stripped in different ways, and for healthier systems.

One of the things I don’t have the energy for anymore is getting into circular arguments about scriptural interpretations and up-in-the-sky theology (which we spend countless hours on while the world’s crying out for hope) or trying hard to convince churched people they have brokenness, too, that they are just like “those people” that they want to try to help or save.  It is just too tiring.

It reminds me of a fight I had over a decade ago with a big-wig leader at our old church over use of the word “desperate.”  He said it was offending people and making them feel uncomfortable. When I look back, it is all so comical, having to defend that the word “desperate” would be acceptable in a church.  (Oh, yeah, and “messy” and “broken” were off the list then, too, too offensive and not where the people-who-gave-a-lot-of-money lived). But in the moment it wasn’t too funny, and I kept advocating for it.

There are some things worth looking dumb for…for a while at least.

I don’t think desperate is a stretch when I read the gospels. I think of all kinds of characters finding their way toward Jesus for healing, like a moth to a flame. And then even the put together ones are desperate enough to seek him, too–the Roman centurion in Mark 8, desperate for his daughter to be healed. Even Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, sneaking off in the night to find out more.

When I was told not to use the word “desperate” anymore, I knew my days were probably numbered at that church. In that moment, across the table from this put-together, considered-one-of-the-wisest-leaders-in-our-church, upstanding Christian citizen, I had this thought that has lingered all these years afterward–I wonder if he just might be jealous of grace.

Grace jealousy.

What I mean by “grace jealousy” is that when we have worked our butts off for years growing in our faith, attending church, abiding by the “rules” of the systems we came from, applying biblical “truth” a certain way, and then all of a sudden people break out of that and start doing things we weren’t supposed to do and still get “in”, it can piss us off in some weird, probably-beyond-words way.

I don’t bring up that story to point the finger at him; that wouldn’t be fair, and it was years ago, a distant memory. But it has made me wonder if grace jealousy is at the root of the resistance to people’s faith shifts. To the heated conversations about LBGQT and the church. Or part of the reason why recovery ministry is so difficult to integrate into the wider church. And maybe an underlying reason the divide between “us” and “them” continues to be perpetuated.

I keep thinking maybe it’s maybe at the heart of a lot of the battles in the conservative-progressive conversations.

It’s a “wait a second, I’ve been adhering to the law and then they get an easy shortcut? That’s not fair!”

Hmmm, sounds like pretty much everything Jesus was talking about related to the law. And reminds me of the story of the woman who busts into Simon the Pharisee’s house and the tension between pride and humility.

Just like way back when, we human beings still struggle with radical grace, radical inclusion, radical honesty, radical freedom.

Grace jealousy really can ruin us, individually.

And as systems, too.

When we are people pleasers, rule followers, law-adherers, it can trip a wire in us when other people get away with not playing by our internal (and external) rules. It feels unfair and wrong somehow.

“Hey, if we don’t get to be free, you don’t either” rears its head in all kinds of crazy ways.

I am wondering out loud if somehow this is the reason so many people fight so hard for “the law.”

Maybe it’s about being jealous of grace and freedom.

I know I can be jealous sometimes, especially when I have a voice in my head that says, “You should _______” or “Hey, you are working so hard; how come they get off the hook?” or “But, what about ______?

I know, more clearly than ever, that I never ever want to be jealous of another person’s grace or freedom.

It’s a glorious thing to celebrate.

I think grace jealousy might point to something deeper inside of us, inside many church systems, that is afraid to receive, afraid to let go of, afraid to be free from.

What do you think?

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • oh my, such a core message! “what, you mean those slackards that started working 15 minutes ago are going to get exactly what I get paid after working all day! bulls&^t!” a loose interpretation of the vineyard parable- deep in our hearts we cannot believe that love and grace are unearned, it MUST be something we do. everytime i feel it, and i feel it often, i am reminded that i have at my foundation a theology of working for not receiving from. deep breath-

    Reply
    • sorry for the late response on this, somehow i missed it in all of the hubbub, but thanks for taking time to share. this would be a fun one to process together at the refuge.

      Reply
  • One of the most mysterious sayings of Jesus that we cannot figure out is the first shall be last and the last shall be first. We might think “that is so unfair.” This statement messes with our clearly defined lines about who is in, who is out, who is right, who is wrong. Just as Jesus says whatever you do for the least of these you do to me. Another statement that might destroy our “correct” theology. It seems we are so concerned about defining things instead of loving others and embodying our lives in community. I have come to the conclusion that our spirituality is far more mysterious than we have been taught in our Western culture. Maybe we just have to say we don;t understand everything and be ok with that. It seems this could lead us to humility and out of grace jealousy. Thanks Kathy for your words – prophetic, enlightening and authentic – we all need more of that.

    Reply
  • Stimulating thoughts, Kathy. It’s a little different angle than I remember hearing before (or thinking myself), and probably right on. Seems I do recall Apostle Paul saying something to this effect, aside from the Romans comments about Jews being provoked by jealousy to come to Jesus as Messiah, which also may relate, tho it never materialized. (Mind you, I don’t think Jesus fit really any of the messianic expectations but that’s another subject.)

    In my own case, grace “appeared” to me, in its latest major iteration, when I realized that there was no such thing as “saving faith” in the sense of meeting some belief (or even faithFULness) standard to be any more “saved” than anybody else… I do still believe in continuation of consciousness but ceasing to believe in traditional “salvation” was wonderfully liberating, even tho I’d long been convinced I WAS saved.

    Reply
  • As a life-long member of the ‘elder brother’ club in the Prodigal Son parable, I’ve had ample opportunity to grow and mature out of ‘grace jealousy.’ Wish I could say that I struggle no more; but this hit a little close to home for me to bluff my way out of. Thanks for the reminder to keep battling for grace and celebrations of grace in everyone. :0)

    Reply
    • thanks, maggie. always love to hear from you. and oh, i can relate to the eldest and the youngest, given the day….

      Reply
  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KATHY!!! So glad you were born! And I cannot believe that any church leader anywhere would ever ban words like desperate or messy. Good grief, if we in the church can’t own that truth, how can we possibly minister to one another?

    Reply
    • sorry i’m late to respond, thanks, diana. yeah, it’s all a little crazy. but real, too. 🙂 thinking of you from across the miles.

      Reply
  • “…we have worked our butts off for years growing in our faith, attending church, abiding by the “rules” of the systems we came from, applying biblical “truth” a certain way, and then all of a sudden people break out of that and start doing things we weren’t supposed to do and still get “in”…”

    Wow! That really brings the story about the workers in the vineyard to life! Those who’d worked all day felt cheated by receiving the same wage as those who’d come in at the last. I’m so glad you came back to this post – your words make such sense of that attitude.

    I suspect those still trapped in the ‘work your butt off’ mentality do struggle because it’s not ‘fair’. It’s only when we get rescued from that place and realise how freeing this grace stuff is that we can really let go and revel in the generosity of the vineyard owner towards ourselves… and others. It’s then that we can truly celebrate grace!

    PS Birthday blessings to you (in abundance)! 😀

    Reply
    • thank you for sharing, i love how you guys tied in the parable of the vineyard workers, too 🙂 deep freedom brings a security that is not jealous…

      Reply
  • Happy Birthday! Yeah, we don’t have to believe their correct theology, sit in their padded chairs or give money to support their systems, and we can still be in. It’s free grace. We can be LGBTQ, female, black, poor, addicted, theologically ignorant, living under a bridge, Democrats, liberal, not attending church and still be in. Don’t that beat all? So who is supposed to pay their salaries and make the payments on their properties? Not us. But Jesus wants us to keep our mouths shut and not tell anyone we don’t need their padded chairs, buildings, theology, systems and correct thinking to be in. Doesn’t the Bible say that someplace? It must be in the book of Hezekiah.

    Reply
  • It is interesting to me that you are intentional. You commendably work so hard, and effect so many for the LORD, and enjoy what you are doing for the most part. You enjoy introducing others to Jesus, and yet you still represent law, works and godliness as seen only through the eyes of those who think they can earn their salvation through these things. Of course that is the wrong view of law, works and godliness. But, there is the Law that King David wrote love poetry to, also. If we cannot agree with Psalm 119, the Bible is against us. True Faith (in a living, loving Savior) does create good works, godliness and lawfulness. Faith has no substance without doing because all real faith will become manifest. Abraham was justified by faith, by obeying God. Doing creates being, one way or the other. Lawfulness and godly inspiration flows from true Faith in the Savior. Our works recommend us between the difference of fraud or righteousness. Your works are precious in the sight of the LORD… and some of them are scheduled to be burned up. Often the real miracle of someone’s success coming out of addiction is simply the hard work they do and the members of a body helping them. It’s a mystery, but they are not two parallel systems of belief. They are one. The eyes of the LORD are roaming over the face of the earth to see if there is one righteous… I think we just need to be careful not to sell cheap doctrines of “accept Jesus into your heart and you will be saved and keep doing whatever makes ya feel good.” That’s not even in scripture. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Pure “belief” is something the demons can do, do, and they tremble. Our Salvation really belongs to the LORD, it is His Salvation designed for us in mercy, and it sanctifies us! We kinda need to focus on Him and what He says, otherwise, we make a half-truth doctrine of salvation that is completely untrue and can lead to the most disastrous of all ends.

    Reply
  • I found myself nodding along with this. It’s been probably ten years since I’ve been a part of a church community, but I found myself remembering the things that happened leading up to when I left my last one as I was reading this.

    I was a rebel 21 year old kid back then. Full of questions and criticisms and candid openness about every one of my fatal flaws. Plus, I came without a set of parents to keep me in line. In retrospect, my free spirit and refusal to accept the rules on face value and keep my mouth shut must have terrified that conservative pastor who’d always played by the rules.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *