As we go on in life we tend to set a higher value on the virtue of kindness — plain, ordinary, everyday kindness. When we look back on our lives we remember with regret acts of unkindness. But we recall fondly times when we acted kindly. Kindness is essential to true justice. Jesus was especially kind to individuals whom he was called to judge. The classic example is the woman caught in adultery.
The story warns us against being too quick to take the high moral ground. Which of us is without sin? We must learn from the example of Jesus. He condemned the woman’s sin, but refused to condemn her. It’s not that sin didn’t matter to him. It did. But he distinguished between the sin and the sinner. He condemned the sin but pardoned the sinner.
And his over-riding motive in all of this was compassion. The holier a person is the less he / she is inclined to judge others. In every human being there is a dimension which escapes the powers of judgment of any other human being.
Jesus refused to condemn her. But he did say to her, “Go and sin no more.” In other words, he didn’t deny her sin. He got her to own it and take responsibility for it. It’s much easier to deny it, to excuse it, or blame it on others. When one faces it and deals with it, there is no more blame, or regret, or remorse, or despair.
The compassion and forgiveness of Jesus give life. The woman went away free – free to change her behavior, and to regain her self-respect. Jesus reminds us that people are capable of changing if given the chance.
The mission of the Church is to be a place of forgiveness so that those who fail (all of us in different ways and degrees) may experience the love and compassion of the One who refused to condemn. The Church ought to be a community of grace, a community free from legalism, a community which will not condemn but which will love, a community which is more concerned about mercy than justice.
One day a mother came to plead with Napoleon for her son’s life. The young man had committed a serious offense. The law was clear. Justice demanded his death. The emperor was determined to ensure that justice would be done. But the mother insisted, “Your Excellency, I have come to ask for mercy not for justice.”
“But he does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon answered.
“Your Excellency,” said the mother, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it.”
“So be it,” said Napoleon. “I will have mercy on him.” And he set her son free.
Mercy, of its nature, is pure gift. It is something we all stand in need of, and hence it is something we must be ready to extend to others. The Lord said, ‘Blessed are the merciful; they will obtain mercy.