I’ve been talking with a friend about my own modified understanding of prevenient grace, which, in the gospel stories, is depicted by what might be called the magnetism people felt in Jesus’ presence. There was something in his demeanor and “body language” that attracted people in a way that was rare if not unique. But more than mere attraction, there was also something that encouraged those in great need to anticipate, perhaps with fear and trembling, his welcome, so that they were emboldened to present themselves and their need under circumstances that would have otherwise sent them farther into exile or even death. Consider the woman who had been bleeding for years, the woman who was a well known sinner in the city, the ten lepers, the centurion whose slave was ill, the synagogue leader with a sick daughter, the widow of Nain, or the many others who were deaf, blind or lame.
Each of them was either caught in or dared to come into social situations in which they were not welcome and possibly subject to physical harm, and yet they had the anxious courage to present themselves to Jesus in expectation of welcome, love and maybe healing.
That sort of welcoming magnetism is, I think, strong but not compelling. There is plenty of room for free will to work. Perhaps not everyone can feel that magnetism, but I’m convinced that those who do are not compelled to be drawn in. Rather they experience the drawing power of God’s loving welcome that invites them to approach yet permits the free exercise of their own will to accept or decline.
Now the question is, what is the source of that welcoming magnetism in our day? It’s facile to say that it’s the work of the Holy Spirit and let it go at that. There has to be some material manifestation, and that has to come from you and me. We have to be the physical agents of that power, and I think, that for the most part, we are really lousy at dong that. That, more than anything else, is what I think is meant when we pray that we be sent out to do the work that God has given us to do.
I might add some more later on if there is any interest in this by way of telling about a little game we used to play on the streets of New York before I was ordained.