Recently two news stories caught my attention. You might already be familiar with one or both of them. The first one was the sequel to something first reported back in May, about a convenience-store clerk named Mohammad Sohail who was threatened by a bat-wielding assailant (we'll call him BWA for short) who demanded the money from the register. This was, granted, possibly not the best thought-out robbery in the history of crime, especially given that the clerk responded with a semi-automatic rifle trained on the hapless amateur criminal, rather than the much-hoped-for loot. How the best-laid plans so often go!
But then it would seem this criminal attempt was not-so well-thought-out after all. After Sohail had the foiled robber in his sights, the latter pleaded with the clerk not to kill him, explaining that he was acting out of desperation to provide food for his family who were all hungry. BWA was apparently another casualty of the recent bust of the American Dream brought to us by high-flying Wall Street speculators, and had decided on a rather rash course of action as a result. Or maybe he was just lazy, who knows, right?
At any rate, he pleaded with the gun-wielding clerk to spare him, which the latter did, on the condition that he, BWA, would promise never to rob again. The promise was given, and for his troubles, the generous Sohail gave the desperate soul $40, some bread, and would have given him some milk, too, had BWA not run off while the milk was being procured in the back.
What many reports of this story failed to, well, report, is that the assailant began engaging the forgiving shopkeeper, asking him why he had spared him, to be told that as a Muslim, he was expected to help the poor (that's one of the five Pillars of Islam: "zakat" or alms-giving). Apparently this impressed BWA enough to want to convert on the spot. So Sohail uttered some Islamic prayers with him, christened him with a Muslim name, and told him "Ok, you're a Muslim." He then went to get some bread for BWA, but when he returned, the newly-minted Muslim had vanished.
All this happened, as I mentioned, in May. Six months later Sohail received a $50 bill in the mail from BWA, as well as a brief note of thanks testifying that the foiled robber had been able to turn his life around since his encounter with Sohail, thanks to the storekeeper's selfless act of compassion.
The second story interesting to me has a similar theme: back in March it was reported by NPR that Julio Diaz, 31-year-old social worker, was headed home from work when he was held up at knifepoint and his wallet demanded of him by a teenager. Diaz responded not only with this wallet, but his coat as well, telling the young thief to try to stay warm. Of course, this caught this young man completely off-guard, so when Diaz invited him to have a bite to eat with him at his favorite diner, the young man reluctantly agreed. At the end of the meal, such was Diaz's personality that he had his wallet back, had paid for his young charge's meal as well giving him $20 to help him out, and had even gotten the teenager to give him his knife.
Those of you reading this with a strong connection with Christ might recognize yourselves in the two would-be criminals, who, while they were not immediately deserving of kindness from a power superior to them (whether in terms of firepower, as in Sohail's case, or morally, as in Diaz's case), they were nevertheless shown kindness. Sohail would have been perfectly within his rights to have called the police, pressed charges and have his assailant arrested, but instead he gave the man food and money so he could take care of his family. Diaz ended up buying an instrument of criminal intent from his own assailant for $20, thus providing him with a means to try to pull himself out of the desperation which had driven him to steal. (I think we can agree that a career criminal would have sneered at Diaz's offer to take him to dinner, and to buy off his weapon!)
This kindness, the gift of grace, is the sort of gift one might think to be seeking at all times as a Christian, but perhaps it's not inappropriate to keep it especially in mind during a season of gifting to celebrate the nativity of our Savior.
How does one receive grace? Asking for it never hurts, of course, and in order to ask you have to have your intention aligned with receiving such a gift from an absolute power beyond one's ability to conceive. Obviously I'm not suggesting you should go out and attempt a robbery; the robbery was already committed, long, long ago in the Garden, in fact. But the interesting and awesome thing about grace is, you might not even be prepared to receive it, you might not even be consciously aware you're looking for it, and you might get it anyway, just as the two amateur criminals in the above examples did. In fact, it would be safe to assume that, if you're reading this and identifying in any way with the fortunate antagonists of the two tales I just related, you've already been the recipient of God's grace in a way that has changed your life. In which case, you're in a position to pass it on yourself...