The road got steeper and the stones got sharper. The clouds were hanging over the stony path so that you could barely see it. A storm was brewing. I moved slowly, as one heavily burdened, though the only thing I carried was a shepherd’s crook to help me walk. Still, the feeling of being heavily burdened was with me.
I came across a group of people screaming, yelling, and gesticulating. Two or three men were dragging a half-naked woman to where Christ was standing. I was deeply engrossed in my silence and really didn’t want anything to do with it. My silence seemed to be a warm protection against the storm that was coming.
The woman was crying. I tried to make a detour, but there always seemed to be somebody in my way. So I stopped. I heard her accused of adultery, a crime punishable by stoning according to the Jewish law. They were screaming at Christ too.
In an unusual gesture, he bent down and began writing something on the sand; he was absolutely silent. So was I—utterly silent. He continued writing, then suddenly he broke the silence by saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone.” Then he continued to write.
The quality of the silence changed. Kneeling on the sharp stones, and as if a thousand flashes of lightning were exploding around me, I knew, with a knowledge no one could ever take from me, the mercy of God. One by one the men left her, and the woman was standing there all alone. Christ broke the silence once again: “Is there no one to condemn you?” “No one, Lord,” she said. “Then neither will I condemn you. Go, but don’t sin any more.”
She left, but I remained. Christ ceased writing on the sand. Then he sat down on a large stone and looked at me. I looked at him. Breaking my silence, I said, “Lord, I have just witnessed the immense mercy of God. Will I die for having seen it?” For I was absolutely sure that no one could behold this outpouring of mercy that flashed like lightning and live.
The Lord shook his head and smiled and said, “No, Catherine. That is not what you are here for. You are here to become a silent witness to this mercy. Now that you have had it burnt into your soul, not that you know what mercy is, go and be merciful.”
Molchanie: Experiencing the Silence of God by Catherine Doherty. pp. 39-40.
In her vision Catherine Doherty asks Jesus if she will die for having seen the immense mercy of God. His response is to charge her with the task of going forth and being merciful because by her witness she has had the immense power and knowledge of mercy burned into her very soul.
Her silence in the face of conflict had provided warm comfort against the storm. How often do we…I…cloak any mercy that we could otherwise provide in the same comfortable silence? Despite carrying nothing in her vision but a shepherd’s crook Catherine felt the weight of her silence. Though she hadn’t noticed it the weight had become a burden.
We have that same burden. But we also have the same knowledge and an example to imitate. Examples of mercy abound and surround us every day. Perhaps not always in person right before our very selves. But the sheer number of repeated postings of news articles, YouTube videos or personal anecdotes on Facebook or other social media removes our ability to claim ignorance of mercy.
How much death is unknowingly caused each day by all of us because we fail to be merciful?
How many senseless arguments could be avoided? How many destructive conflicts on a scale and scope of any size?
How many storms are brewing in our spheres of life that will continue to fester because of our inability to show mercy in things great or small?
The mercy we show, give or demonstrate may be the only thing that lies between someone and a mob with stones at the ready. It may be a mob of many. It may be a mob of one. The mob may well be comprised of the individual, stoning themselves through self-defeating and self-destructive behavior.
Other than our ability to forgive, mercy may be the most powerful tool we possess to affect the lives of others. To affect our own lives.
The mercy that is burned into our very souls may be the line in the sand that protects someone, even ourselves, from the mob of condemnation.
Together let us go and be merciful.