Philip Yancey asked the famous question, “What is so amazing about grace?” The words of the famous hymn ring loudly Sunday after Sunday in churches across the globe, but can we really fathom the mystery, the wonder, or even the scandal of grace?
Grace is a paradox of sorts, like “jumbo shrimp” or “charity tax” or “to find your life, you must lose it.” We all are in need of grace, but so few of us understand it. Those people who require grace the most are the same people who don’t deserve it the most. Although I believe all sin is repulsive in God’s eyes, it’s unfair for the upright Christian who has had very few struggles with “big” sins in their life to receive the same grace that a prostitute on the street or the murderer in the jail cell obtains. Yet the same grace is offered to both.
Scandalous, if you ask me. Jesus embodies this scandal. His love for tax collectors and other notorious sinners equaled the Enron of His time. His parables, including the account of the workers and the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), resembled the Watergate of the Messiah. Jesus’ death on the cross for the sinner and saint alike composed a story good enough to make the tabloid covers.
I don’t claim to understand grace. I am not sure that the real concept of grace is within our grasp. It may be so divine that our finite minds can’t put our arms around it. But one snapshot of grace has forever altered my perception of grace and the God who extends it to me. And that snapshot is of Don Quixote.
Miguel de Cervantes, a famous Spanish writer and a contemporary of William Shakespeare, penned his famous account of Don Quixote in the early 1600s. In the 1970s, Don Quixote’s tale was adapted for the stage in The Man of La Mancha. One of the writers of the musical said of the production, “The audience is not just watching a play; they are having a religious experience.”
The beginning of the story finds Cervantes and his faithful sidekick Sancho thrown into a prison cell to await a trial. Fellow prisoners demand to hear Cervantes’ story, so he chooses to retell his tale in the form of a charade. As he sets the stage, Cervantes transforms, before our eyes, into the knight in waiting— Don Quixote.
Don Quixote and Sancho set out on a perilous journey that eventually leads to a castle, where Don Quixote hopes to find refuge to nurse battle wounds he sustained in a skirmish. The castle is actually an inn to Sancho and the audience, but in Don Quixote’s eyes, he is entering a place of royalty.
It is here that the “knight” encounters Aldonza. She is one of few women at the inn, and she possesses only one thing the rough men around her wanted: her body. Everybody knows that it is imperative for a knight to have a lady. Don Quixote states, “A knight without a lady is like a body without a soul.” To whom would he dedicate his conquests? To whom would he devote his victories? What “vision” would sustain him as he charges forth to do battle with ogres and giants?
In Aldonza, Don Quixote has discovered his vision. He decides to call her by a new name: Dulcinea. He places this new title upon her, meaning “sweet one,” despite her reputation and occupation as a whore. Don Quixote, later in the day, calls for his Dulcinea. He refers to her as “the most sovereign and highborn lady.” Aldonza replies, “Nobody touches my heart.” But Don Quixote’s desire and pursuit of Dulcinea increases. He says, “The lady Dulcinea; her beauty is more than human. Her quality? Perfection. She is the very meaning of woman. And all meaning woman has to man.”
Aldonza speaks in reply, “Just for once, will you look at me as I really am?” Don Quixote answers: “I see beauty and purity.”
As the story unfolds, Don Quixote lies on his deathbed, convinced by his family members that he really is not Don Quixote, but rather Alonso Quijana; crazy, dressed and dreaming he is the great Don Quixote. As death approaches, Alonso Quijana sends for a priest, as he wants to dictate his will. Chaos ensues in the room, and the commotion is caused by none other than Aldonza. The lady has come back for her knight.
“Don’t you remember me?” are her words. “I am your Dulcinea. And you are the great Don Quixote” The tired eyes of Alonso Quijana light up as he remembers his adventures and his Dulcinea.
So, what can we learn from The Man of La Mancha?
We play the character of Aldonza in this drama. We were dirty, impure and unworthy. We had no lineage and no future. We were of no account. We were not fit to be deemed the high lady of a knight. But the grace of God offers us, despite who we were, a new name. He does not see us as Aldonza, the whore, but He now chooses to call us Dulcinea, His sweet one.
It makes no sense that God would choose an Aldonza like me to become His Dulcinea. But the grace of God often times does not make good sense. He offers it to the lowest prostitute and the greatest preacher. He extends this new name to the abortionist and the adulterer and the accountant and the artist.
Philip Yancey said, “Grace costs nothing for the recipients, but everything for the giver.” I am given this new name of Dulcinea by the grace of God through Christ Jesus. It cost Him everything to give me this new name. And this is the scandal of grace. It’s a mystery, but a “sweet one.”[Brandon Smith lives in Kearney, Nebraska, where he is a campus minister on a university campus. He wants to thank Mark at Purdue for sparking a Don Quixote interest in him. Email Brandon at [email protected]]