The emphasis these days on mercy–wow. It’s deeply, deeply needed. Families in our society have been decimated. It seems every single person in our culture has been touched by something no one should ever have to endure. Everyone–everyone–is broken now. We live in a world that needs mercy like never before.
As a Catholic, I’m constantly reminded of this. Before my reversion to the Faith, my sins and mistakes had left me a shambles in need of healing. There was almost nothing left of me, and the only thing that healed the pain was God’s mercy. And since I’ve returned to my Faith, it seems that the more I learn–the more light enters my life–the more I can see that I’m broken. Thank goodness God forgives us when we go to Him with sorrowful hearts asking, and thank goodness He keeps reminding us of His love for us.
I got to thinking about the depth of God’s mercy today, and it brought to mind the story of the woman caught in adultery and her conversation with Christ found in John 8. You remember–when the scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone her, Jesus outsmarted them by saying, “Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.” At this, instead of stoning the woman, the crowd dwindled away, leaving her alone with Jesus. He asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She answered, “No one, sir,” and He offered her the fullness of His mercy–“Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
Now, today, as I was mulling this over, I got to thinking–
What would that have sounded like if Christ had left out the reference to the woman’s sin, so as not to offend her…as we are often encouraged to do today?
What if Christ, instead of saying, “Go, and sin no more,” had just said…”Go.”?
Would her life have changed? Without admonition and encouragement to do better from a God who loved her, would she have “sinned no more”…
Or would she have gone right back to the same broken, heart-wrenching lifestyle that had nearly led to her death in the first place?
Healing and recovery aren’t the result of someone making us “feel better” about the fact that we are living apart from God. Healing and recovery come about when we turn to Him and offer Him every part of our lives. That means turning away, with His help, from things He asks us not to do.
When we, as Catholics, talk about sin, it’s about so much more than “this is right, and that is wrong.”
It’s about dignity. It’s about a person’s value. It’s about what a person is worth.
Jesus Himself wanted that woman to know that she was worth more than the degrading life she was living. Sin breaks us. It tears a person apart.
Real love–real mercy–does not mean telling that torn, broken person that their sin is OK–because they’re drawn to it, or because it’s the modern thing to do, or because they can’t help it. Real love–real mercy–doesn’t just say, “Go.” That’s only half the mercy we are called to share. Real mercy shares Christ’s full message–“Go, and sin no more.”
In the end, it’s all about love. And, really, you can’t love someone if you don’t hate what brings them down.
In other words, we can’t really love the sinner unless we hate the sin.