Just Mercy – Becoming Stonecatchers

Rev. Donnell Wyche – June 14, 2020​

The world that we live in isn’t as it should be. The issues of liberation, freedom, justice and mercy are too large for any one of us to do something about on our own. Today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. Bryan Stevenson in his book Just Mercy says that we need more stone catchers in our world.

53Then they all went home,1but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)

A woman, caught int he act of adultery, dragged naked to a public place and placed before the King of Kings who is pure and holy. (Dr. Steve Andrews) When God talks about holiness, it also includes being set apart, consecrated. Focused on “Don’t do this because you belong to me, not don’t do this because it makes you unclean.” This is an intense moment for this woman, but it’s also significant for us. We get to see what happens when someone is placed at the feet of Jesus.

The text tells us that the religious leaders dragged this woman to this public place as a trap for Jesus. They cruelly decided to subject this woman to shame only as a means to an end. The leaders look to Jesus to condemn the woman for breaking the law of Moses, undermining his message of forgiveness or wave away the Mosaic Law, forgiving her and thus violating the law. Justice without mercy, or mercy without justice.

But Jesus chooses both. He turns the accusations back on the accusers. Jesus is saying to them, “Do you really want to play the role of just and holy God with the power of life and death over this woman?  If so, then you better actually be as just and holy as God.”

By the end, all the accusers are gone, only the woman is left. And Jesus becomes her stone catcher. He forgives her, absolves her of her guilt, and removes her shame. Jesus does not say, feel bad about this the rest of your life. But neither does he condone her behavior. No, he says, Go, and sin no more.

Jesus chooses both justice and mercy because God’s identity, character, and purpose are both justice and mercy.

God accepts us just as we are, and at the same time, God doesn’t leave us where He finds us. This is the tension that we accept as a church community that’s trying to carve out a new space in the radical middle: we are both accepted as we are AND are called to transformation. This is a paradox, and since no one likes paradoxes, we try to immediately resolve this tension.

Here’s the truth: Jesus has already accepted you. Therefore, we must accept each other in the same way Christ has accepted us. Think of it this way: we start by realizing that we are accepted by God, this allows us to enter a relationship with God, which allows God to speak to us about who we are, or better yet, who we think we are, all of which can lead us to believe something different and powerful about ourselves–that we aren’t who we think we are.

Maybe we are accepted first because this gives God an opportunity to present and offer us a new way forward: there’s no need to live by the fruits of the rebellion. We can learn to trust and surrender to God’s love, care, and provision for us, which frees us to live as we were intended to be, image-bearers reflecting the king who created us.

Here’s the other side of the acceptance paradox: we are also called to transformation. While I am accepted, I cannot enter the kingdom of God if I stay where I am. It’s a process, an unfolding, and it starts with our repentance.

17“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

“Those who love their life will lose it.” In order to discover life within the Kingdom of God, requires a death. A daily dying to our “false self,” so that our “vulnerable self” might emerge.

Jesus is inviting us to live within the Kingdom of God, which requires a daily dying. Dying daily to the effects of our participation in the rebellion against God – the anger, fear, lust, pride, greed, envy, and apathy that robs us of life. Coming alive to the fruits of the spirit, the gift of the kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It starts with our repentance, which leads to our transformation.

Mercy (becoming a stone catcher) flips the script on our “courtroom justice” tropes

  • judgyness and selfrighteousness end up being on trial
  • guilty or innocent is not the end of the story or the deciding question
  • acknowledging our own guilt (as well as our acceptance and forgiveness by God) is central to how we understand our role in responding to others’ sin or guilt. We’re giving up on trying to achieve or defend a status of “innocent”.
  • We accept that the “forgiven” is as high a status as we’ll ever get.

Mercy (becoming a stone catcher) deepens our understanding of Mercy

  • doing mercy requires compassion
  • doing mercy requires faithfulness
  • doing mercy is part of the pursuit of justice (not an alternative to justice)

Mercy (becoming a stone catcher) is an inspiring call to action

  • accepts that mercy is an act of vulnerability: we’ll get hurt, and we’re most able to see the need for mercy in the shape of our own wounds
  • it decenters our own pain & hurt that make us defensive or want others to suffer, opening us up to see a different story and live out different behavior
  • it makes for a catalyzing binary: if you’re not catching stones, you’re probably throwing them.

Some liabilities to consider:

  • Mercy ignites our messiah complexes, especially when we’re taking stones for others
  • Individualism: we are invited to consider how to practice mercy as a community, not a heroic individual