“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.
Reality TV shows
I am reminded of a couple of reality game shows that are on TV; Survivor, Big Brother, The Apprentice. These shows are some of the most popular, but one thing strikes me as I look across each of them. If we look at the rules for each of the shows we begin to notice right away that mercy is not something that is rewarded. Survivor and Big Brother rely on alliances and they thrive off the mistakes and mis-steps of others, and when these things happen the person who made the mistake is ganged up on and voted off the island or out of the house. Each week on the apprentice the teams are given different challenges and those who perform poorly are sent to the board room where they attempt to sort out the weakest member, and Donald Trump utters the famous words “Your Fired!”
Yes these are games and mercy is really not built into the rules of the game, mercy is not rewarded by the game but then again it isn’t against the rules either. It seems to me that many times we are playing by the rules of these games. We realize that mercy is not rewarded by our society and so we begin to single out the weak members of the team, and before long we vote them off the island.
These rules haven’t changed much over the course of 2000 years, in fact its recorded in John that the Pharisees came to Jesus with a woman that they wanted to vote off the island.
We will never know what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day, there has been much speculation and a lot of wasted time wondering what Jesus wrote. We don’t need to wonder about the letters in the dirt, because we have all that we need in the words that Jesus spoke. They came to Jesus with a woman who indeed had sinned, and they placed her in the midst of the crowd. I think sometimes we get the image that the woman was brought to Jesus and it was just his disciples who were with him, but by the account we know that there were many people who were gathered to hear Jesus teach, and they came and placed this woman in the middle of them all, shaming her. I imagine some of the people gathered knew who she was, and many may have gasped at the charge that was brought against her.
And so we have two contrasts, judgment and mercy, trial and forgiveness.
What is amazing about this incident is not simply that Jesus didn’t condemn the woman, but that we can apply this to our own lives in two different ways.
On the one hand we are the woman, standing before her judges, knowing that we are guilty, and not being able to argue in our defense because we have no defense. And so we have the hope and promise that mercy can be given by Jesus to all sinners who stand at the feet of Jesus. Indeed this is Good News.
On the other hand we are Jesus, a person in the position of judge, we have been given all the facts and the woman has nothing but guilt to bring, and so we are left to make our decision. But, before you make your decision about this case, or about any other case that you may have been presented with lately, lets take time to see what we are called to do as Christians.
I know this kind of behavior is not rewarded by the rules, but then it isn’t forbidden by the rules either.
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Jesus was eating dinner with a bunch of crooked accountants, like some of the folks down at Enron, and prostitutes. Probably not the best company to be seen with in a civilized society. The Pharisees began to say that Jesus should not be eating with these people because they are sinners.
But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ’I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners."
Sometimes we become convinced that this whole mercy and forgiveness thing started with Jesus, and that before Jesus condemnation under the law was the only command, but here Jesus tells the Pharisees to go study Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees had again taken what the Bible said about grace and mercy and applied it only to those who were pious, and used it as a means to justify themselves and condemn others. Isn’t it sad that we today have done the same things?
Have we taken the forgiveness that God gives us freely on the one hand, and on the other hand have we offered that forgiveness freely to others that we might think don’t deserve it? I am wondering what would happen if I brought a chain gang of convicts into our church to worship. I wonder what would happen if someone came in who was drunk or high. I wonder what would happen if someone came in who was having an affair. I wonder what would happen if someone came in who had abused our trust. I wonder what would happen if we began to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes.
A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death.
"But I don’t ask for justice," the mother explained. "I plead for mercy."
"But your son does not deserve mercy," Napoleon replied.
"Sir," the woman cried, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for."
"Well, then," the emperor said, "I will have mercy." And he spared the woman’s son.
Which are you this morning? Are you the woman standing before her judges, or are you the righteous standing as judge? Are you guilty and you can offer nothing in your own defense, or are you looking at a sinner and wondering what to do.
This morning we are partaking in Holy Communion. It is during this time that we remember that Jesus had mercy on each and every one of us, by dieing on the cross for our sins. He was Love in the flesh, mercy with hands and feet.
This morning if you are standing with no guilty with no excuses, then salvation and forgiveness are here for you today.
If you are in the place of Jesus and are looking at a person who is guilty of sin, and the world says that a judgment is needed, I ask you to remember as you stand there looking at that guilty person that if you turn around, and when you do you will see that you are not the judge after all, but instead you will find that you are that guilty person standing before your judge. Will you ask for mercy? Will you ask for compassion? Will you ask for forgiveness to be given from the judge? If so, then how can we offer anything else to the person standing at our feet.
But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
This morning the Table is open to all who wish to receive.
This morning forgiveness and mercy are open to all who wish to receive.
This morning will you give forgiveness and mercy as it has been given to you?