12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
June 23, 2013


Many years ago, the words used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a big dent in my mind. He talked about “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Before I proceed, let us get it straight from his mouth: “"cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance; baptism without church discipline; communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

It is all too easy for all of us to look only for the former, and ignore the latter. Why not? It is nice to be comfortable and safely ensconced in our seats. It is hard to rock the boat and even  harder to suffer unnecessarily.

That is not what I gather from the readings today. The first reading from Zechariah speaks about the Lord “pouring out” “grace and petition” – something pleasant and unpleasant, something that would lead to gratitude and mourning at one and the same time … growth as much as purification; mourning in the heart and fervent petition from within.

I have personally been through tough times in my life. I have been through happy times, to be sure. It all comes in a package called the gift of life. Sometimes you’re up; sometimes you’re down. Now, it is cheap grace … (Thank you, Lord!); now it is costly grace … (My Lord, and my God, help me!)

But whether I am drenched to the bone, cold and chilling to the max, or high and dry and reveling under the warmth of the sun of people’s care and concern, I am led to the same prayer that we had after the first reading: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God!”

God’s people had its share of grief and mourning. Today Zechariah prophesies more of such. St. Paul says as much, reminding the Galatians that “baptism” cannot be had without “discipline,” that we were all “baptized into Christ” and that we all “have clothed ourselves with Christ.” Baptism is “cheap grace” – insufficient by itself, incomplete all by itself. Christian life needs to be gritty. It needs to have substance. It needs to have bite. It needs more than just fiduciary faith. It thrives on performative faith, and when one stands up to perform, then one had better be prepared to be pelted by life with tomatoes and everything else besides!

I have been pelted with more than just tomatoes in my life. Do good. Strive and work for the good, and just as surely as night follows day, criticism and dissatisfaction will follow suit. St. Paul knew it all: the factionalisms among the Corinthians, the division of the early Christians between those who rooted for him and those who rooted for Apollos … Name it, Paul experienced it … floggings, imprisonment, shipwreck and all! This is the same Paul who begs us now never to focus only on cheap grace, but work also for costly grace: “no longer male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman” for we “are all one in Christ Jesus.”

One day, at perhaps a low moment in Christ’s life, the Lord made a little survey … “Who do the crowds say I am?” Perhaps he, too, was looking like we all do at times, for a little affirmation, a little reassurance …

But know what? When Peter told him the best, the utmost, the highest … “You are the Christ of God!” he capitulated. He got back to form and said the unthinkable. He did not want to remain with the “cheap grace” of shallow accolades, and even shallower appraisals of people around him.

He chose costly grace. And he began to talk about substantial matters – the very reasons for which He was sent, the reason for which He came …

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised!”

Lord, in my selfishness and desire to look for the easier way out, help me! Bring me back to form and lead me to work, not only for cheap grace, but for costly grace! My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God!

Need I say more? “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

I rest my case … I want your grace in whatever form!