Your heart stops. Then it races like Secretariat with the Triple Crown in her sights. The color drains from your face and there’s a slight tremor in your hands.
“I’m a dead man.”
It’s that moment you realize you’ve really messed up and there’s simply no way to explain it away. There will be steep consequences. You briefly think about trying to lie your way out of it, but your momma taught you better – time to man up.
I imagine we’ve all been there. The first time I encountered this situation was in Mrs. Ellis’ fourth grade class. I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I was kind of the class clown, always looking for an opportunity to get a laugh. Let me set the scene on this fateful, Friday afternoon. I was standing around Mrs. Ellis’ desk with a few other students. I noticed her keys lying on the desk. I thought if I pretended to slip her keys off the desk in an obvious way then I’d get a playful response such as, “Not so fast Lane, you delightful little scamp, put those keys right back where you found them.” I executed my overt maneuver, thinking she certainly saw me slip them into my pocket. Nope. She didn’t notice and then I must have had an “Ooh, shiny” moment and forgot all about them.
I got home later that day, had a snack, watched a little Schoolhouse Rock and then went to change clothes. When I pulled Mrs. Ellis’ keys out of my pocket, my eyes and my mouth grew wide in disbelief. Time stopped. I broke out in a cold sweat as I realized the unthinkable…I had stolen my teacher’s keys.
I walked the green mile to the kitchen and told my mom the whole sordid tale through a quivering voice. She placed a call to the school and spoke to Mrs. Ellis. She had been tearing the room apart looking for her keys. Yep, I was a dead man. Mom hung up the phone, took the keys to Mrs. Ellis and they agreed to handle it on Monday. That was the longest weekend of my life.
When I slinked into class on Monday, I told the entire story to Mrs. Ellis and apologized profusely. I stood awaiting the index finger that would point me to the principal’s office, but to my surprise, I saw compassion in her eyes. She said, “It seems like you’ve suffered enough; try to be more careful next time.” She was right; I had imagined every kind of punishment imaginable over the weekend. When she dismissed the punishment that I clearly deserved, I was overjoyed. The weight of guilt that I carried all weekend was lifted and I’m pretty sure I levitated off the ground a few inches.
Pastor Scott continued his sermon series on the beatitudes with “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” He defined mercy as “not getting what we deserve.” I certainly deserved punishment for the grief I caused my teacher, but Mrs. Ellis taught me a lesson greater than state capitals and multiplication tables; she gave me a lasting lesson on mercy. Scott’s sermon reminded us that mercy is compassion in action. It flows from love, leads to forgiveness, and is balanced by justice.
There was another time in my life that I realized I was a dead man. I clearly deserved punishment for my actions. But, the Father showed mercy and sent His son to take my punishment. Jesus showed “compassion in action” as he made His way to the cross. Are we following His example?
By the way, has anyone seen my keys?