Have you ever sat down to eat a meal with family or friends, and someone offered to “say grace” before you started digging into what’s prepared? This phrase is often used to describe a prayer at the beginning of a meal. But why do we call that prayer “saying grace?” It’s such an interesting phrase. Where did it even come from? The word “grace” has its roots in the Latin term Gratia, which means favor, which is how we generally use it today. Grace is unmerited favor. However, the Latin term also carries the meaning of thanks or gratefulness.* Therefore, to “say grace” was to say thanks in response to the “grace” of food.
The origins of “saying grace” highlight the connection between grace and gratitude. Apparently, these ideas were so intertwined that their meanings were carried in the same word at one point. Gratitude, it seems, is the appropriate response to grace. When we recognize that we have been shown favor or blessing, our natural reaction is to respond with thankfulness.
I was reminded of this recently in my household. My wife Alicia is a phenomenal cook and regularly blesses our family with incredible meals. Recently we took guardianship of our nephew, and I noticed when he started living with us that whenever my wife would serve dinner, he would respond with a hearty thank you. His response showed me that he saw my wife’s cooking as a blessing and his natural reaction was to express gratitude. Observing him challenged me to consider if I respond the same way to the blessing of what Alicia provides for us. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I always do. I realized maybe I had stopped seeing the meals Alicia provides as an act of blessing and grace, and because of that, I stopped expressing thanks.
One of the most incredible things about the work and ministry of Jesus is that He comes to reveal God’s grace to us. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus proclaimed that God is now showing unmerited favor to those that would trust and follow Him. However, the question is, how are we responding to the grace Jesus offers?
In Luke 7:36–50, we see the responses of two people to the grace that Jesus came to proclaim and offer. Each response shows something about how many today respond to the grace of God provided in Jesus.
The first response is that of a “woman of the city.” In the story, this woman showers Jesus with affection and love. She recognized that despite whatever sketchy past she might have had, Jesus offered her forgiveness. Because of this, she responds with an outpouring of love for Jesus. She shows us that grace received from Jesus ultimately results in great love for Jesus.
Her response stands in contrast to another, Simon the Pharisee. Simon invites Jesus to his house for dinner but avoids the usual displays of friendship and honor that would have been customary in his day. Not only that, he judges Jesus for the way He receives the affection of the woman of the city. Simon is self-righteous and doesn’t think he needs the grace that Jesus offers. So, he responds with little love for Jesus.
In the middle of Luke’s account, Jesus tells a parable highlighting the fact that the way we respond to grace shows our grasp of it (vv. 41–43). In doing so, He calls us to recognize that the actions of these two individuals display whether they genuinely believe in Jesus and the offer of grace He extends. To truly understand grace and receive it results in extravagant responses of love for Christ. The woman understood grace and responded in love. Jesus says that her faith has saved her. Simon, on the other hand, didn’t.
It’s Simon who is the saddest part of the story for me. Simon was just as much in need of salvation as this woman. Simon still owed a debt because of his sin that he could never repay on his own. Simon sat at a meal with Jesus, who offered him unmerited eternal grace and forgiveness, and because of his pride and self-righteousness, he completely missed it. His response showed his lack of humility. He had little faith and love for Jesus because, in the end, he didn’t think he needed the grace that Jesus was offering.
Today’s good news is that Simon’s story does not have to be ours. God’s grace is still available to each of us today if we are only willing to be humble enough to receive it. This story implores us to let go of our pride and embrace humility. It calls us to let go of our self-righteousness, thinking that we are “good enough” and admitting that we are sinners in need of saving. It appeals to us to stop trusting in our works & thinking we can earn God’s salvation and instead trust in the work of Christ on our behalf. It reminds us that what we need most is God’s grace, which is only experienced through faith in Jesus Christ.
May we all recognize that we are sinners in need of the grace of God and trust deeply in the work of His Son Jesus to save us!