Jesus Sightings in Everyday Life

Swedish Sill

The Christmas season arrived shortly after my young bride and I began attending our church.  It was their tradition to celebrate their Swedish roots with a smorgasbord, to which we agreed to serve by waiting on some of the densely packed tables in the church gym.  We made sure the pitchers were supplied and brought and removed the meal courses from the tables.

This celebration was highly anticipated throughout the year, with the menu leaning toward the expensive side, the table dressings being immaculate, and the attendees dressed for the occasion in suits and ties and pretty Christmas dresses.  After the meal, they remembered their Swedish heritage with traditional Christmas songs and ceremonies.

One of the traditional Swedish dishes served was a pickled herring called sill.  It was served in small, individual plastic containers that adorned each table setting and from what I observed, went largely untouched by most, due to smell and texture.

In preparation for dessert, I was clearing away the main course plates from my assigned tables.  I placed several of the uneaten sill cups on a stack of plates in my hand and in the process, one of the cups spilled its fishy contents onto the light green, festive dress jacket that Gary was wearing.

When the horror of what I had done dawned on me, a thousand thoughts rushed through my head, among them;

  • how to deny the event…
  • how fast I could get to the kitchen pretending nothing had happened…
  • what to say to talk my way out of taking responsibility…
  • how we were a young, financially struggling, newly married couple that didn’t need yet another bill to pay…

But the tightly packed tables and the smell of the stain on the light green fabric had me cornered with no other option than to apologize profusely for my clumsiness and tell Gary to bring me the bill after his jacket had been professionally cleaned.

One week passed, then two, then a month, then several months without Gary presenting me with a cleaning bill.  As each week passed, I would constantly reshuffle in my head, which bill would take the “hit” in order to pay the anticipated cleaning bill.  I did not purposely avoid seeing Gary, but I was busy with Sunday School and our paths rarely crossed on Sundays due to our differing responsibilities.

Finally one day I located Gary and sat to talk with him.  I told him I had been expecting a cleaning bill and wanted to get the whole affair settled.

He looked at me and said, “Tom, don’t worry about it.  I have other dress coats.”  In that single instant I felt as if a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders.  All my worrying about how to juggle our bills had been fruitless, and I began to understand more what grace actually is.

The churchy definition of grace is unmerited favor, which is very churchy sounding!  But working with elementary age boys forced me to realize that I needed to teach churchy things using simple words, and in doing so, I’ve benefitted by being able to understand deep spiritual concepts using those same simple words.

Justice, mercy, and grace are all related, and this is what they mean using simple words;

  • justice is getting what I deserve,
  • mercy is not getting what I deserve, and
  • grace is getting what I don’t deserve.

After spilling smelly sill juice on Gary’s light green jacket, I didn’t deserve to be freed of the obligation to pay for the cleaning.

After spilling smelly sill juice on Gary’s light green jacket, I didn’t deserve to be able to approach Gary to talk with him or to expect any type of relationship at all.

After spilling smelly sill juice on Gary’s light green jacket, what I deserved was justice, whatever the cost, by paying for a cleaning, but instead I was shown mercy and above all grace.

When I recollect the lesson from the Swedish sill, I begin to better understand what the Lord Jesus did for me; instead of rendering justice, I receive mercy and grace, much more often than I think I need or even deserve it.

And with that incident I saw Jesus in everyday life - but He looked like Gary.

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