I’m at the gas station three days before Christmas and some imbecile almost backs into my car trying to leave the pump without consulting the rear-view mirror. I lean on my horn, and a self-appointed good Samaritan tries to tell me the person just wants to back up.
“And she should back into my car?!” I yell. The other driver finally drives forward, where there always was a clear exit.
She pulls away effortlessly. I have to admit, I almost wished she’d hit something as a permanent reminder of her recklessness! Truth be told, most of us like to see people punished when they do wrong even if we aren’t personally injured. We want God to condemn the same people we do.
It was the same in Jesus’ day. One day at the Temple, the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman they’d found in the act of committing adultery. (There’s no mention of the man involved, though we know there had to be one!)
The penalty for her sin, they reminded Jesus, was death by stoning according to the law of Moses. A holy man, like Himself, would have to agree. If not, they could accuse Him of opposing the law.
To their dismay, Jesus didn’t immediately react. When He did, His reply was withering: Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.
One by one, the men walked away, the oldest ones first. Having lived longer, presumably the elders were conscious of having more sin for which to account.
The woman was left with only One who could rightly condemn her. He did not. He simply told her to go and sin no more. If it sounds like a free pass, it’s because it is. Jesus didn’t ask her to shed any blood. He didn’t even ask her to apologize. He told her to change her behavior.
For those of us who prefer to see people suffer for doing wrong, this is hard to take. But here at Christmas, it’s a great illustration of the real gift God offers each of us: a merciful Savior who didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.
I embrace this mercy for myself, but I often find it hard to give it away in the everyday world of gas stations, grocery store parking lots and home. Maybe mercy is THE gift to share this Christmas. No one deserves it. But it’s what everyone needs — even when it’s the last thing we may want to give!