Sunday, November 2, 2008

When Mercy Saves the Day

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:11b)

I wonder what she was thinking. She had been caught in the act. Dignity and self-respect were lost somewhere in her cloudy past. Maybe she had been divorced by her previous husband(s). Women in her time could be divorced if their husband simply found some "unlovely" trait in his wife. Women in this day and time were at the bottom looking up if they had been given a certificate of divorce. No socio-economic status. No security. No hope. Not as many takers the next time around. She had been cast aside as impure. Maybe she was just so lonely that she jumped at the first glimmer of affection. The first glimmer of adoration. The streets had become her home. She lived in the dark places. She lived in despair. And now she had been caught in a horrible, sinful act by men with stoning on their minds.

This time they were going to expose this small town, teacher for what he was. They had set the stage. They had the bait in the trap. Surely he would put his foot in his mouth this time. She offered no excuses as she stood there--probably half-dressed and beaten. Humiliated. But, she stood there looking at the crowd surrounding her. She looked everyone in the eyes. Then she looked down at the ground. The Pharisees had no compassion in their eyes--only self-righteous hatred. She feared the worst. She knew the penalty. She knew the price for her sin--death by stoning.

The Pharisees confronted Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" The haughty Pharisees smiled. They had Jesus right where they wanted him. Finally, this so-called Messiah would be exposed as a fraud. Finally, there would be no more crowds following this articulate teacher. Jesus surprises them. He doesn't give an immediate response. Rather, he kneels down and begins to write on the ground with his finger. Maybe he wrote the word "mercy." Maybe he wrote the word "forgiveness." I like to think that he wrote a message. A message that signaled his knowledge of the sins of the judgmental Pharisees in the crowd. Maybe he knew their dark secrets. Maybe he could expose them. Just maybe. They caught the woman in her sin. Maybe Jesus had caught them in theirs.

Jesus stands up and looks at the silenced mob of Pharisees and says, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he returns to the ground to write in the sand. What he wrote isn't recorded. Nevertheless, it must have been powerful. From oldest to youngest, the Pharisees began dropping their stones one-by-one until only Jesus and the scantily clad woman remained. Instead of hearing the whistling sounds of the stones flying through the air, she heard the stones flop to the ground. There would be no stoning today.

She looks at Jesus. She looks into his eyes. She didn't expect to see what she saw. For the first time in years, she saw compassion. For the first time in years, she didn't feel like the trash of the city. She straightens up and wipes the tears off of her cheeks. Jesus speaks, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She didn't know where they had gone. All she knew is that they were no longer there. She had not been condemned. She answers the second question, "No one, sir." She trembles. The trembling isn't due to fear. She trembles because she no longer fears for her life. The adrenaline is wearing off. She is no longer afraid.

Jesus was the only man in the crowd that could have thrown a stone. He was without sin. If anyone had reason to take out a little frustration on this sinful woman, it would of been him. He would have been just in doing so. But, Jesus wasn't in the stone-throwing business. Jesus was in the business of forgiving sinners. Jesus was in the business of healing the sick. Jesus was in the business of bringing new life. He was in the business of mending broken hearts; and, he had one more heart to mend today. He turns again to the woman and says, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and sin no more."

A second chance. Mercy had been shown today. Mercy had saved the day.

That is the last we hear of this woman. We don't know the "rest of the story"--as Paul Harvey would say. But we do know one thing. We know that Jesus was true to his words to Nicodemus. He had said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:17)

Have you ever felt the threat of stones clinched tight in judgmental hands? Have you ever been so disappointed in yourself that you, too, felt like you were holding one back, ready to take a shot at yourself?

Maybe we all need to remember the mercy of our Savior.

If we are in need of a little compassion. If we are in need of a little mending.

We can revisit the scene that we are familiar with.

Instead of throwing stones, he shows compassion. Instead of shouting accusations, he whispers forgiveness.

His mercy will save the day.