Are you mistaking God’s mercy for license? This was the risk of the woman caught in adultery who the Pharisees and teachers of the law brought to Jesus to set a trap for Him. If He administered justice, He would break the Roman law that required a trial before capital punishment. If He demonstrated mercy, He would break Jewish law that called for stoning her.
Jesus’ initial response to the young woman’s accusers seemed to draw their attention away from the woman and to His actions: “But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger” (John 8:6b). Scholars debate what Jesus was writing on the dust covering the stone floor of the Temple and why. In first century Judaism, women were stereotyped as instigators whenever sexual sins were committed and were labeled as lacking the spiritual and moral fiber needed to uphold the law. The absence of the woman’s lover in the story is significant to the plot. Allowances were made for men who experimented with sexual adventures, but this was forbidden for women.
Two thousand years later, our culture commonly blames the female caught in sexual sin as the source of the problem, while the man is considered typical, if not a hero. The fourteen- or fifteen-year-old woman in this story had a loose heart of sand, confused, scattered, deceived, and lost. She was a wanderer. Was she longing for mercy, not receiving what she deserved, or did she desire license?
The same question is true for us today. Do we desire mercy or license? Justice void of mercy is condemnation. Mercy absent of justice is license. Forgiveness is the only concept that welds together justice and mercy. We know we desire mercy, not license, when we are willing to accept the consequences of our actions and surrender to our Loving God who has paid for all sin at the cross of Jesus Christ.
Confess your sins to God each day for the next week. Receive His mercy in Christ and bask in His presence. Radically issue mercy to those who wrong you because the God who forgave you much will empower you to forgive those who sin against you, drawing them to a fully surrendered relationship with Jesus Christ.