Than We Deserve
by: Norman R. Gulley
"FATHER PIERRE, YOU ARE GUILTY OF MURDER"
The judge’s words rang out beyond the courtroom to the citizens of France, stirring up hatred and outrage throughout the populace. How could a man of the cloth murder a poor widow----especially when she had willed all her possessions to him! But the gardener had found the priest’s cassock buried in the grounds of his dwelling—torn and bloody. And though the priest declared, “As I stand before God, I am innocent,” he offered no proof. In disgust, the court ordered Father Pierre shipped to Devil’s Island. There, even the other prisoners despised him. They poured out their hatred on him, calling down curses upon him as he knelt and said his daily prayers.
A disease-ridden hell.
Eventually the authorities transferred the priest to Oraput Camp, a disease-ridden hell. And when that prison closed, he asked to go to Isle Saint Louis, where only leprous prisoners resided. For five long years, he lived among lepers—in a place even those delivering food refused to enter, simply throwing packages from their boat instead.
One day a new leper arrived. Father Pierre bent over the man, looked into his badly disfigured face, and asked, “Friend, what can I do for you?” “I am Gruscailou—1 am the one who did it,” the leper blurted out. The other lepers gathered around. “Did what?” Then the truth tumbled out.
Gruscailou, Father Pierre’s gardener, had worn the priest’s cassock to get into the widow’s home to rob her. When she recognized him, he murdered her. Then he ran to Father Pierre to confess his sin. And the priest had kept the confidence given him. For the past 20 years, he’d suffered the punishment his gardener should have borne. Father Pierre treated Gruscailou better than he deserved to be treated, not as he deserved to be treated.
That’s just how Jesus dealt with human beings,
as the following story from John 8:1-11 shows.
A large crowd gathered at the temple early one morning to hear Jesus teach. Several of the group that opposed Jesus dragged a woman in and dumped her in front of Him. “She’s an adulteress!” they shouted, wanting everyone to hear, “caught in the very act. We saw her. “Moses said she should be stoned. What do You say, Jesus?”
Yes, Leviticus 20:10 does specify state stoning as the punishment for her crime. And Christ knew the Scriptures. But He looked beyond legalism to the disheveled, fear-ridden waif of a girl thrown down in front of Him. And His love didn’t break the law, but kept it. For the law hangs on devotion to God and compassion to human beings (Matthew 22:36-40), and Jesus had compassion on her.
“If you are sinless, cast the first stone,” He replied. Jesus knew the woman s accusers were frauds. They were guilty, too, but covered up their sins while expos-ing hers before everyone. So in accusing her, they were condemning themselves.
What was Jesus’ attitude? He didn’t condone the sin, but He didn’t condemn the sinner either. After a seemingly eternal silence, throughout which the woman cow-ered fearfully, expecting rocks to begin crashing into her body at any moment, she heard the welcome words, “Neither do I condemn you.... Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
And later, when Mary Magdalene shuffled, head down, into the presence of Infinite Purity to admit that she had fallen again—the seventh time—to the same temptation, what was Jesus’ response? Did He say, “You again! Why, I’ve helped you six times already. You’re hopeless and need to be locked up. That’s the only way you’ll be cured”? No, Jesus sent her away forgiven—clean. Moreover, on resur-rection morning, He “appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons” (Mark 16:9).
All through the Gospels we find others whom He treated the same way: Zacchaeus, Peter, and Judas, to name just three. Jesus treats people as they need to be treated, not as they deserve to be treated.
Years ago, a misunderstanding between Joseph Parker and Charles Spurgeon, two prominent ministers in London, made the newspapers and was headed toward even bigger things when the actions of one of the men cooled the flames that had been started. Here’s how it happened.
Spurgeon’s church operated an orphanage for boys. One day Parker said to some members of his church, “We ought to help Spurgeon with his orphanage, for there are times when the boys don’t have proper clothes, and I am sure they could use some food.” One of the men who had heard Parker’s suggestion went to Spurgeon and blurted out, “Joseph Parker says the boys in your orphanage don’t have enough clothes to wear or sufficient food to eat.” Incensed, Spurgeon mounted the pulpit the next Sunday and lambasted Joseph Parker for his alleged statement. News like that travels fast. Hearing of Spurgeon’s blast, a newspaper reporter raced over to Parker’s home and asked him whether he would reply to Spurgeon the next Sunday. Parker thought for a moment and then replied. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I will respond to him next Sunday.”
The story hit the papers, and people by the hundreds packed Parker’s church the following Sunday. When it came time for the morning offering, Parker arose and said simply, “Brother Spurgeon is sick today and cannot preach. This is the day when he takes up an offering for his orphans. May I suggest that we take up that offering for him in our church, for he’s doing a great work, and I know all of us would like to have a part in it.”
Parker’s compassion stirred such a response that the deacons had to empty the plates three times. They bagged the money and took it over to Spurgeon after the service, commenting, “This is a gift from Joseph Parker. He really promoted your program in church today.” Spurgeon was transfixed by Parker’s generosity. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered from his illness to be out and about, he went straight to Parker’s study. Throwing his arms around his “rival,” he said “You have more of the spirit of Jesus Christ than any man I know.”
Jesus not only treated others better than they deserved, He taught His followers to do the same.
Despised and rejected
How was this Jesus treated, this Jesus who had such compassion? He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:3-5).
While Jesus spent His life treating people as they needed, not as they deserved, He Himself received undeservedly bad treatment from them. How could people be so cruel to the One who was so kind? And it wasn’t just His enemies who hurt Him. Of His own disciples, Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, and all forsook Him when He needed them the most. But—whatever the cost to Himself—He wouldn’t forsake humanity.
Jesus was dragged through many trials during the hours before His sacrifice (John 18, 19). He was mocked, derided, spat upon, and pushed and pulled around by unfeeling wretches. Twice He bore scourgings by Roman lashes that literally left His back raw. Then, after relentless accusations and much false testimony, His crucifixion was ordered. When the cross was placed upon His bruised and bleeding shoulders, so drained was He from the spiritual, emotional, and physical torture that He fell, dying, to the ground.
At Calvary, spikes were driven through His wrists and legs to hold Him to the cross. Then it was dropped into the hole in the rocky bill, causing Him untold agony. While He hung there between heaven and earth, the mob jeered. “Come down from the cross and save yourself. . . that we may see and believe,” they mocked (Mark 15:30, 32).
He came to save
He could have saved Himself and let the world go to blazes. He could have spoken the word and wiped those wretches off the face of the globe. He hadn’t come, how-ever, to condemn, but to save. He stayed on the cross to treat human beings as they needed, not as they deserved. Though Jesus couldn’t carry His cross, thank God He was able to carry the weight of the world’s sin to Calvary.
And how do you treat yourself?
Do you carry a load of guilt or disappointment?
Do you blame yourself for things that have happened?
Have you learned to forgive yourself?
Christ said we should pray “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In other words, He said we should ask God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others. I believe the prayer Jesus taught His disciples also means God wants us to forgive ourselves as He has forgiven us.
Christ did not come to condemn human beings (John 3:17). He is not in that business. Only Satan condemns (Revelation 12:10)—and what right has he to deride people for their sins? We are all saints compared to him!
Jesus hung on that cross for you, my friend. Whatever your failures, cling to the fact that He will always treat you as you need, not as you deserve. Isn’t such a Saviour worthy of your love and commitment?
•Norrnan R. Gulley teaches religion
at Southern College of Seventh day
Adventists, Colle gedale. Tennessee.
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