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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

On Mercy and Grace

My heart broke today. I am saddened and feel the ache – physically – in my heart.

There has been so much…’discussion’…shall we say…about what laws Indiana passes and how it will affect others that we’ve lost sight of the main thing… and grace.

One side spouts ‘we need protection’ while another side spouts ‘we have our rights.’ And somewhere in the middle is this thing called grace. Grace is a tricky thing. It can make you think. It can make you cry. It can make you change the way you speak. And if you’re not careful, it can make you change the way you live. Oh…I hope it makes us change the way we live.

Grace is different from licentiousness. It’s a fine line to try to tip toe. How does one give grace yet not condone something? How did Jesus do it? Gee…that’s a novel idea….let’s take our lead and example from HIM!

Case in point….the woman caught in adultery. Now I won’t get into the ‘it takes 2 to tango’ thing. She was the set up for the religious leaders of the time to try to trip up Jesus into saying something wrong so they could deal with the ‘threat’ he was to their way of life. From the start Jesus has ruffled feathers and made folks feel uncomfortable because He had no problem telling someone what they were doing was wrong….He just did it in a way that made the person WANT to follow what He was saying. He modeled love and grace.

Back to our woman caught doing the ‘tango’…..the religious leaders had no respect for her at all….they were ready to sacrifice her to make their point, to keep their control over the people. They brought her to Jesus and my guess is she stumbled to the dusty ground, trying to gather herself and reclaim a little dignity. After all, she was suddenly on display and her life was hanging in the balance.

The leaders claimed their law said she should be stoned. Think of that…having the public hurl stones at you with the intent to kill you, so you KNOW they’re aiming for your head and your chest. And these weren’t pebbles….these were STONES as big as the palm of a hand or maybe a little larger. They’ll do damage. Quickly. My heart would be beating pretty quickly.

But then the leaders make a ‘fatal’ error in their assumptions. They ask Jesus what He says about her sin. And I love how Jesus deals with it. He draws a picture in the dirt! His answer is first of all one of silence. And after a bit of a pause, He stands up and simply answers the question with a direction: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’

He didn’t say the Law was wrong. He didn’t scream for protective rights because of the situation. He didn’t even necessarily say she should be saved. He simply said ‘if you haven’t sinned, have at it.’

And one by one the critics were silenced. The prideful arguments to deflect from their sin were suddenly turned right back at them. And not only were they silenced…..they dropped the stones, turned their backs, and left. Jesus had outwitted them…again. Grace won.

It IS possible to respond with love and grace. It’s tough. Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard NOT to be defensive and not want to be sure you’re heard. But in the screaming to be heard the message is muzzled because it becomes about us and not Him. And HIS message is about love…and grace….first accepting it for your life and then extending it to the lives of those around you. And until that happens, we are just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals as the Apostle Paul wrote.

Let’s go back to the woman and Jesus….so everyone has left except Jesus. If ANYONE had a right to condemn her to death it was Him. He was, after all, the only one who was without sin. But just because He could didn’t mean He did.

Again Jesus starts with a question. “Does no one accuse you?” He has a marvelous grasp on the obvious. “No one, sir.” Now catch this next part…it’s a masterpiece. “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Did you catch that? Jesus didn’t pull punches. He told her what she was doing was wrong (she already knew but no likes to be told). But He did it in a merciful and grace-filled way. He didn’t talk condescending to her, though He could have. He didn’t call her names. He didn’t turn His back. But He also didn’t shy away from the truth. He simply said ‘Neither do I.’ That’s the mercy part. And here’s the grace part…’Go and sin no more.’ What He COULD have said vs what He DID say were two very different things. He showed mercy and love by not condemning her though He had every right. And He showed grace in how He spoke to her. He didn’t lie….He still called her on her sin….but He also called everyone else on THEIR sin. Sin is sin, no matter what form it takes. He calls us each on it…and He tells us each the same thing….’go and sin no more.’

Why can’t we all learn from Him….to let our first answer be silence, and then mercy, and then grace. To not shy away from an issue but to keep silent about it and let our actions speak for us.

In a world clamouring ‘hate’ and ‘equal rights’ and ‘tolerance’… ’bout we just love instead….the way Jesus did….the way Jesus wants us to….to not condone sin (He certainly didn’t) but to realize we all sin. As a sign I recently saw read, ‘don’t judge me for sinning differently than you do.’ We all sin. We all need mercy and grace. May we, through the grace of God, find a way to give it to each other and practice more silence from the start.

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