Friday, March 29, 2013

Mercy's Fool

This post has been in the makings for a LONG my head.  Recent events have only convinced me that now is the time to write it - probably in a series as my thoughts are SO numerous.  This process is completely indicative of what I want HeatherInTheMaking to be, a safe place to reflect, grow, and revise as needed.

She was cold, trembling with shame as the telltale signs of her chill were exposed, visible through the thin linen underdress, the customary sadhin, that she wore.  "Will they punish me and call me a harlot for this as well?" she wondered.  She crossed her arm over her breasts to conceal the evidence of her discomfort.  The men had taken her without allowing her to put her outer robes back on.  Her thin, almost threadbare, sadhin was a woefully inadequate grasp at any remaining shred of modesty she could claim, and offered no protection from their eyes.

Though she suffered the painful awareness of every carnal need her body was crying out for - warmth, food, drink, and sleep - she remained quietly aloof.  She knew the risk of her actions…that she had willfully sinned against the law.  To become hysterical and beg for undeserved mercy would do nothing for her but subject her to further judgment and cruelty.  She was exhausted, but death was certain, and despite her captors' own periodic dozing, she resisted to sleep, reliving the all-too-few memories she had of feeling loved, safe, protected in her life before it would all be taken from her.

Clearly these 'men of God' had no interest in following the letter of Moses' law, or else Nachum would be here with her, he just as guilty as she.  Nachum, her beloved, who had loved her their whole lives, and mourned the day her parents married her off to that horrid old man she now called husband. Nachum, who had tenderly kissed away the bruises left by Jubal.  Nachum, whose scent still lingered on her skin.  Did he know of her plight, and despair, realizing death was unavoidable?  Or, the more cynical side of her wondered, was he sated to have finally known her, relieved to face no consequence?  That thought stole her breath away, striking her heart with a searing pain far more excruciating than any of Jubal's beatings. "No," she pleaded silently with herself, "Nachum is an honorable man."  He had told her that first night that he was prepared to face death with her if they were ever found out, that he would rather die in the sin of loving her than live a righteous life, without her love.  Hot tears slid down her face at the memory leaving wet trails in the dusty floor as they fell.

Yeshua.  Throughout the night, she heard the elders who were awake talking, most of it unintelligible, frantic whispering.  But that name kept presenting itself in their discussions.  "Who is this Yeshua?" she wondered.  "No matter," she eventually decided. "Dawn is approaching and my fate will be sealed soon enough."  As the men were selectively following the law, she wondered if she would even be given the requisite trial before they executed her for her sin....

The story of the woman caught in adultery has been on my mind a lot in recent months.  As illustrated above, I've imagined many different scenarios that could be the back-story to what we read in John 7:53-8:11.  In addition, I've done quite a bit of reading regarding the story's authenticity, as my Bible has a disclaimer above this passage: [The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53—8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.]  I believe to my core that this passage is authentic because it rings true with Jesus' reactions to the Samaritan woman at the well and that of the sinful woman's washing of his feet with her hair, tears and perfume.  It is a story of love and mercy, which is what Jesus is all about, and has been a go-to passage for me throughout my faith journey because it resonates with me so loudly.

Last quarter, my church had an amazing, thought-provoking, and controversial class highlighting the book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters  - which talked, among other things, largely about how in America, Christianity has become too political, too judgmental, and too homophobic, in the eyes of many outside and inside the church.  It spoke to my liberal-leaning heart and really caused me to stop and think, "Just what do I really believe and how do I live [or not] out those beliefs every day?"  Then we covered another book by the same author, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church ... and Rethinking Faith, in which I saw myself described when the author described a group of people he called Exiles:

…let’s define exiles as those who grew up in the church* and are now physically or emotionally disconnected in some way, but who also remain energized to pursue God-honoring lives. They feel the loss, in many ways, of the familiar church environment in which they once found meaning, identity, and purpose. They feel lost, yet hopeful. (75)
…many of today’s exiles…feel isolated and alienated from the Christian community — caught between the church as it is and what they believe it is called to be. (77)
*I did not grow up in the church, but have walked with Christ {or let Him drag me, kicking and screaming at times} for almost half my life now.  

Huge plug for my church - we are asking the tough questions and testing the spirits rather than complacently regurgitating platitudes that often don't even have a scriptural root.  Though I sometimes feel lost and that my personal understanding of God is too different from many of theirs, I know that they love me, will love me, no matter what.  And that, friends, is no small potato.  I mean, I know this is true of God, but my fellow human beings whose hearts can harden with flawed understanding?

How do I know, like really know, deep within my bones, that these people have my back, and will always have my back?  Will always pray for me and love me even if my doctrine differs from theirs, even if I admit to doing heinous things?

I know this because last Wednesday over 100 of us, roughly 1/3 of our body, took time off work and drove 80ish miles round-trip to sit for hours in a courtroom to show our love and beg mercy for a brother who was admittedly guilty of a grievous sin.  It is easy for anyone to stand up for someone who has been wronged, but to stand up for someone who has done wrong, repeatedly and intentionally?  The prosecutor alleged that our brother had "bamboozled" us, and that was tough to swallow, but here is the fact of the matter:  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Our brother did wrong, and he deserved the full punishment of the law, just as the woman from John's story was guilty of adultery in the eyes of the Law.  But we as Christians serve a God who says, "Let any one of you who is without sinful desires* be the first to throw a stone..."  * Yes, the original language apparently translates to sinful desires, as in wants and thoughts of the heart and is not necessarily limited to sinful things someone has actually done.  And mercy, like grace, is not earned or deserved, it is a granting of favor.  The difference is that mercy mitigates a punishment while grace is a gift.  The two are often co-mingled, especially in Christian theology.

Over the past year, we'd watched our brother work to right his wrongs, paying back as much as he could through the sale of his home, retirement account, and humble wages as a janitor.  We'd seen him atrophy and waste away with grief over the devastation his sin had caused for all involved parties, his employer, his family, and his community.  We'd seen him repent.  Those things are all bonus - as the woman in the story does not indicate remorse or changed behavior.  But, Jesus didn't require it from her before granting mercy, either.  He offered mercy to her where she was at, guilty, and then admonishes her to walk the straight and narrow.  He teaches us to first and foremost, examine ourselves and show mercy to others in response.  

That, my friends, is why we all showed up at court last week - not because we felt jail was undeserved, not because in all other aspects our brother was a good man, not because we wished to minimize his actions, not because he 'bamboozled' us into thinking a lesser punishment was warranted.  We showed up because we love him, will continue to love on him and his family during his imprisonment, and love always hopes, even when it is foolish to do so.  I've never been prouder to be part of my church than I was that day, because we embodied Love, the kind of Love that defies conventional understanding and seems radical to people on the outside.  It made me feel like less of an exile and more of a member, for sure.

I believe that God did hear our prayers and sway the judge to a merciful ruling, lessening it from what it could have been.  It was not absolute mercy, the lightest sentence available, but it was also not the maximum and there is something to be said for that.  Now, I'm just praying for beauty from ashes.


  1. What a beautiful post! Sorry it took me so long to make it over here. :)

  2. Did you write that story part at the beginning of this post?! It is amazing.
    I love your thoughts on this.

  3. Beckie, somehow I missed your comment. Yes, I did write that, thank you for your compliment! Funny thing, is it's been on my heart to start writing about it more. I want to give that story life and depth that can provide others with a hunger for the unfailing love of Christ and the freedom from shame and guilt he brings.

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