Mary’s Contagious Grace
by David R. Smith
“I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He has made known. . .” With that confession, Daniel W. Whittle opened his well-known hymn “I Know Whom I Have Believed.”
If he’d lived 150 years later, a woman named Mary Johnson could have told him.
On a chilly Minneapolis night in February 1993, twenty-year-old Laramiun Byrd, the only son of Mary Johnson, was shot to death at a party by sixteen-year-old Oshea Israel. Tried as an adult, Israel spent the next seventeen years of his young life at Minnesota’s Stillwater State Prison before being paroled. During those long, empty years, Mary Johnson, a teacher’s aide, worked up the courage to visit her son’s killer in prison. Staring at her son’s murderer, she began the first conversation with as much grace as she could muster. “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now.”
At first, Israel was confused by Mary’s efforts, but time and time again, the humble Christian woman ventured into the prison to speak with the convicted killer who’d forever changed her life. During those visits, Mary told Israel about her faith in Jesus and the hope she had in Him. The tenderness and care that Mary showed through the prison bars only confused Israel even more. But when he was paroled in the spring of 2011, his confusion reached its peak. Mary put in a good word with her landlord and helped Israel get an apartment in her complex. Oshea Israel now lives in apartment #902; Mary Johnson in #904.
Two people, separated by murder, became neighbors because one extended grace to the other.
But they don’t just live next door to each other; they live close to each other, as well. Mary helped Israel secure a job, begin college, and even connected the ex-con to her church. Now Israel has a testimony of God’s grace to share with others . . . all because Mary shared with him the grace she’d received from Jesus!
That’s contagious grace!
One of the biggest reasons God makes His “wondrous grace” known to us is so we can share it with others. Granted, Mary Johnson accomplished something most are unwilling even to attempt . . . but extending grace to one another is what all of us are called to do.
In 1 Peter 4:8–10, the apostle says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (ESV).
There are plenty of people who need to experience the grace of God, which is why Peter says we must be good stewards of His grace. So, who are you sharing His grace with? An unruly child? The deceitful coworker? An intolerant spouse? Your gossipy neighbor? Look at what God did with the grace Mary showed to Oshea Israel; imagine what God can do in the lives of those around you if you’re willing to share His grace with them.
Just be warned: showing grace will almost always cost the giver. It’s easy to see what it cost Mary Johnson to share God’s grace with Oshea Israel. But when we show the grace of Jesus, we reveal Him to others.
That, Mr. Whittle, is why God has made known His wondrous grace. So we could share it—and ultimately, Him—with others! Go make God’s grace contagious!
Read more about God’s grace in Christianity . . . It’s Like This by David R. Smith.
David R. Smith prefers to have simple conversations about faith and life, even though he’s earned two undergraduate degrees and one advanced degree. He pastors First Baptist Church in Linden, Florida, where he lives with his wife, Jenn, and their son, Josiah. When he’s not preaching, he’s usually looking for great barbecue joints or his errant golf shots.
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