Building Treasure in Heaven: Love Mercy

Jesus just writes in the sand. When he looks up, he says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he bends down and writes in the sand again. Obviously, what he says hits home. They all lay their rocks down and slip away.

Jesus knew that something had gone wrong. The religious leaders, who were supposed to lead the nation to be the light of the world, had failed to see the humanity of this woman. They only saw her as an illustration to make a point in their legal case. They had forgotten the purpose of the law in the first place. Jesus called them back to the original vision of God. Notice that he never said the law didn’t matter. He reminded them of who God is: mercy.

Snapshot Two: Matthew 9: 9-13

A man is sitting at a table, collecting taxes. Though he is rich, he is miserable. He is rich because he is a successful intermediary for the hated Roman overseers; he is miserable because his own people have shunned him for it. No one respectable will give him the time of day, until the rabbi [teacher] arrives from up north. He looks Matthew right in the eyes and holds his gaze. At that moment, Jesus gives Matthew a chance to leave his identity as a tax collector and begin again. Jesus says, “Follow me,” which means, “Join me and my disciples.”

Later that night, Matthew has Jesus and his disciples over for dinner. Around the table sits a motley crew of tax collectors and other sinners. They are listening to Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God. The well-respected religious leaders also talk about the Kingdom of God, but this is so different. The way the religious leaders tell it, Matthew and his friends are on the outside. God hates them for their sin. But when Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, there is a place for them in this story. God loves them! God is a God of mercy! They are invited to sit at the table in the Kingdom! Can this be true? They have so many questions…

Outside, the religious leaders have heard what is going on. They are shocked that Jesus would demean himself to eat with this rabble. They ask his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus hears this and responds, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ Again, Jesus is calling them back to their OWN tradition.

Leave Room for Mercy

What is really important here? It is these people gathered around this table listening to the Good News and learning that God loves every one of them and wants them to know him. People were coming back to God, but the Pharisees completely missed it because they didn’t have room for mercy.

It is not our job to judge. We don’t know anyone’s full story. We have no idea why people struggle the way they do. Only God knows, and we just know that God loves them. Our ONLY job is to love people and walk beside them. Mercy is at the heart of our Christian lives because God is mercy.

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3 Replies to “Building Treasure in Heaven: Love Mercy”

  1. Steve I have prayed on the first story last two day and concluded in his mercy what we don’t know is what led this women to adultery. And in this passage we do not see Jesus address that but as you eloquently put it she is saved from an unloving law. Carrying that forward in our prisons we use the law and punish. But we do not carry that to compassion and mercy and transformation. We are stuck at punishment. Recently I see some movement to courts and collaboration that are rehabilitative.

    1. Our system is based largely on vengeance. That is inevitable; people want this, and vengeance is simply hidden under lofty phrases like “sentences which express public abhorrence of an offence,” or “sentences which adequately reflect public denunciation of unlawful conduct.” Certainly it was a big step forward when early medieval kings substituted trials by robed emissaries of the king, backed by soldiers, for the chaos of families’ seeking revenge on other families. Still, we do try. The federal women’s prison near Maple Creek, SK, is an example. It is a “healing lodge” which attempts to rehabilitate through kindness. And it works, I think, largely because the female inmates are horribly abused and damaged people. Readers of Steve’s writing might be interested in a recent book, “Peace and Good Order,” by Harold Johnson, a rather brilliant indigenous author and former Crown Prosecutor from Saskatchewan. He has grown sufficiently impatient with the “white man’s” system of justice to preach a revolutionary (if necessary) movement by indigenous people to establish a separate “rehabilitative” justice system for aboriginals. I don’t agree with him, but he is interesting.

    2. Marion, I don’t mean to turn Steve’s blog into an exchange on criminal justice (and hopefully Steve will not resent this), but I thought you might be interested in an anecdote from one of my visits to the Okimaw Ohci (sp.?) federal women’s prison “healing lodge” near Maple Creek in SW Saskatchewan. This facility is without walls and very short on guards. The emphasis is on rehabilitation, through emphasis on native spirituality. The second time I visited, it was with a male and female Anglican priest, and while we were there one of the inmates (they are all female and indigenous) told us she needed Christian (specifically Anglican) counselling, and could we arrange this? Predictably, the institution said no: no white man’s religion will be allowed. I found this infuriating, but nonetheless the Okimaw Ohci facility does much good. The women are serving federal time ( i.e. for serious offences; many have committed homicide). There is an elaborate healing lodge facility and many counsellers. The women live in separate suites in long, connected rows, like a nice motel. The first time I was there, it was with a bunch of judges. The inmates had been told to leave their doors ajar if they wanted people to come in and talk. I went into one. It was nice; the inmate had put up pictures and there was a cat. The inmate was a young former prostitute who had slashed one of her johns to death. There was a bunch of female judges in there. The inmate said, “From my earliest memories, it was all my ‘uncles’ coming into my room to molest me. That went on until I was 11 or 12; then they started putting makeup on me and shoving me out on to the stroll. This room [pointing around her] is the first place I ever had where no man can come in and feel me up and rape me. If I don’t want that guy [pointing to me] in here, I can tell him to get out, and if he doesn’t they’ll come and throw him out. I’ll bet you didn’t grow up that way.” From the looks on the faces of the female judges (looking as if they’d been hit in the back of the head with a plank), I’ll guess they didn’t. It is disappointing to relate that recently a male deputy warden was convicted and punished for sexually assaulting a couple of the inmates. I guess this shit never ends. On this visit, the inmates had made a meal for all of us, a great one, and they were very proud of this. I saw an inmate who had been convicted of manslaughter hug the judge who’d sentenced her. The inmates were all proud of having acquired skills in maintaining an attractive home and cooking, things they’d never done before. I often wonder what happened to these mostly young and attractive women upon release. Did the inmate in whose room I was find a room whose door she could lock? I rather doubt it. Many of them likely returned to the stroll. There were a couple of Montana judges on this visit, and I gathered from one of them that in Montana the existence of this kind of facility was not likely to happen. So if the first great step forward in criminal justice was the subjugation of the unruly population to the courts, maybe Okimaw Ohci is the beginning of the second.

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