Tona Herndon had every right to be angry.
She had every right to be offended.
Tona had been violated – shamelessly, unexpectedly and unconscionably violated.
There she was in the small town of Bethany, Oklahoma visiting her husband’s grave. Suddenly, without warning, a man had grabbed her pocketbook and run away.
Tona Herndon had been robbed – in a cemetery, while paying her respects to her dead husband.
If anything good could come from that incident, it’s pretty elusive.
Christian Lunsford didn’t know Tona Herndon or what had happened to her. He might have been a bit suspicious when his father, Shane, had presented him with a surprise gift of $250. Especially since his dad is an ex-con.
The 15 year-old boy might have wondered – or not.
Then Shane got arrested and charged with the crime. It broke Christian’s young heart but didn’t exactly shock him. Christian loved his dad. He also knew him.
At this point in the story you might be tempted to ask: “So what did the boy do? After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. True enough, but someone named this lad “Christian” for a reason.
He contacted Tona Herndon and arranged to meet her. The teen apologized for what his dad did. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out the $250 and handed it to Herndon. She was surprised and moved.
She thanked Christian and took the money. Then she handed it back to him.
“He gave and I received,” she said later, “and I gave and he received”.
Tona Herndon smiled. “So it worked out”.
When he led Prison Fellowship, Chuck Colson was a strong advocate for criminal restitution, arguing persuasively that it was practiced in the Old Testament under the Hebrew system of justice. Colson believed that bringing the offender face to face with his victim was the first – and most important – step toward true justice; what he called restorative justice.
The ultimate objective of biblical justice is reconciliation – shalom – peace.
In the case of Christian Lansford and Tona Herndon, a young man intervened on behalf of another whom he loved. Though he had done no wrong, Christian pursued forgiveness and reconciliation in the place of his father and on his behalf.
Tona would have been within her rights to keep the money as at least a partial payment for what had been done to her. After all, the money was hers. She had been assaulted by a robber.
This was only just.
Instead, Tona responded not with justice but with mercy and kindness. She had received the payment. She was satisfied. Then she generously returned it to the son of her offender.
This was an act of grace.
It was an expression of forgiveness; it was a symbol of reconciliation.
It has been well said that in God’s economy, justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve, and grace is getting what we don’t deserve. If we all realized this more, we’d be less judgmental of others and more grateful for God’s patience with us.
We’d be less harsh in our condemnations and more honest in our confessions.
On the cross, Jesus intervened on our behalf. He did so because of his love – and his Father’s. We were the ones who had sinned. We were the ones who had so grievously violated God’s law and his justice and holiness. Jesus had done nothing wrong but he stood in our place and paid the price we owed.
This was death. It’s what we deserved.
God responded by forgiving us, cleansing us and saving us – and by giving us eternal life.
This was grace. It’s what we didn’t deserve.
Paul explained it to the Romans:
“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5: 1, NLT, emphasis added).
Jesus did this “for us”.
God was merciful. We didn’t get what we deserved.
He did this for you and for me, in all of our presumption, and all of our arrogance; in all of our self-congratulatory self-righteousness – in all of our hopeless and pitiful “filthy rags”.
Yet, “because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand …” (verse 2, NLT, emphasis added).
The King James Version states it in simple eloquence:
“By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand …”
By God’s grace we stand. By his grace we live. By his grace we are forgiven. By God’s grace – and by his grace alone – “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (verse 2, KJV).
Without this grace we would have no joy. We would have no hope. Without it we would perish.
You and I have been reconciled to God – the chosen recipients of his matchless and amazing grace. How much now should we, just like Tona Herndon, be the dispensers of grace to those around us?
He gave and we have received. We must give that others may receive.
When we do, we’ll discover that “it works out”.