The Killer Said “Grace”

He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” – Mark 2:17

The killer brutally murdered a teenaged girl. Twenty-one years later he was still awaiting execution.

The killer sat on a gray plastic chair beneath fluorescent lights. Death row didn’t look like a dungeon. It looked like the DMV.

The killer looked younger than his age. His skin was smooth. His face was framed by a pair of thick, heavy glasses. His hands and feet were chained together. His voice was gentle.  

The killer said “grace” over and over and over again. “Unmerited grace. Freely given grace. Undeserved grace.”

I flinched. That’s when things got disturbing. 

“Listen, I’ll never forget my crime. It is always deeply, deeply disturbing to me. But there has to come a point where you receive forgiveness and then forgive yourself —not to justify your actions, but to let God be God.”

He kicked his legs and waved his hands. His shackles rattled as he spoke. “I’m not letting myself be restricted. I’m a person, and I’m a person who is loved and forgiven by God.”

Grace is easy to preach. But it can strike you like lightning strikes a tree. Christ burned my understanding of justice and decency to the ground. Sometimes their embers still rise up. But I know that if what I believe about God is true, that killer is beloved. 

I walked onto death row expecting monsters. Instead the most unnerving thing I encountered was the grace of God.


Dear Jesus sometimes you are too obvious, too dangerous, too free. Amen.

ddauthormattfitzgerald.jpgAbout the Author
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.