Jesus, fresh from the grave, revealed himself to quite a list of people. In fact, we have the actual list:
“ . . . He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” 1 Corinthians 15
Notice the list-maker puts himself at the end of the parade, as he should. He knew he didn’t belong. A preschooler playing “one of these things is not like the others” would’ve removed Paul from the list in a heartbeat. The Apostle Paul, last of all: one untimely born.
Paul didn’t walk with Jesus on the roads of Galilee or hear the Sermon on the Mount firsthand. Years later, in the most untimely way, Jesus appeared to Paul, roughed him up on the highway, and left him blind in foreign town. Yet when he was healed something more than scales fell from his eyes: he saw God’s grace as both comfort and provocation.
Grace sees things for what they are: Paul understood he was not fit to be called an apostle. He persecuted the church of God. Paul himself points to his violent, murderous heart, but not like one asking for parole—he was a man pardoned–but divine pardon does not change the facts. Paul says simply, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:10). He is strangely content with his past. Grace doesn’t whitewash history: it builds on the ugly facts and makes them the foundation for a glory unimagined. The one untimely born became the herald of transformation.
Paul would be the first to tells us, though, that contentment is only half of grace work: “. . . but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” The very grace capable of bringing contentment fuels the work of the herald. As plainly as Paul would tell you he is the least of the Apostles, he also looks you in the eye lays claim to being the strongest hand in the field.
Both are grace: “I am what I am” and “I labored even more.” Grace lives between contentment and hard work, entirely at home with either neighbor. The pardon becomes fuel for the fire.