Little Joe. A name I’ve grown familiar with, but whom I’ve never met-never could meet. Joe is my father’s older brother, who never got the opportunity to be “older”. A couple of months before my father was born, Joe was tragically killed, in what was undeniably an accident. Now in their seventy’s, Joe’s living siblings still talk about him…reminisce…wonder “what if”…
This family was a hard-working farm family, who’s children learned to toil from sun-up to sun-down from the mature age of seven. As an older teen was called away to help the father in the field, the little siblings were momentarily unattended. That’s the moment that it happened-that regretful moment that cannot be gotten back. Joe wandered away and fell into a milk depository on the farm, and sadly his little life was lost-but not forgotten.
In recent years, Joe’s name has come up many times. Each time that I hear it I am struck with a nagging feeling, and it has caused me to reflect on the society in which Joe died and the stark contrast to the society we live in today. Undeniably, Joe’s death was an accident. Period. No one would ever suggest otherwise. But similar events in recent times, have met with very different endings, because we now live in a society that cannot accept anything as an accident. In fact, our society demands blood, punishment, an eye for an eye. The world we are now engaged in, refuses to look into a tragedy and extend mercy. Mercy, it would seem, simply does not exist-or at least it’s rarely thought to be appropriate to administer it. But is an unmerciful approach correct, simply because it’s what we are becoming accustomed to in the land we now live?
Let’s look at a similar situation with incredibly different results. I remember a dad charged with the death of his son, just a few short years ago, because of a tragic situation. The dad, a minister, went to the church where he served, with his toddler son in the back-seat, strapped into his car-seat. He arrived at the church, and in the habit of going to the church alone, he went into the church-completely forgetting his little boy. Unfortunately, his little boy died a terrible death. It must have been an unimaginable pain for that family to bear. Apparently it wasn’t considered enough pain by the local prosecutor’s office, because soon that dad (who had no criminal history and was a wonderful husband and father by all accounts) was brought up on criminal charges. No mercy. No wrong unpunished. No death un-avenged. No such thing as accidents…immediately my mind went to little Joe and his family all those years ago. How different that innocent tragedy would have been had it happened today. Is it appropriate to force the letter of the law into a tragic situation that is not criminal in nature? I would humbly suggest it is not appropriate or even beneficial to the family or our society at large.
I can’t help but think of recent criminal cases. Because sometimes events occur that are not accidental in nature. Sometimes intentionally or unintentionally a law is broken, and pain is unloaded on someone who didn’t deserve to be hurt. When this type of pain occurs, we want justice! Or do we? Is what we are truly after really something more like…revenge? Is it really justice that we are seeking? Or are we truly seeking blood, are we secretly feeding an inner hate? As Christians, it is important to look at what our inner motivation is, but also to explore the idea of mercy. Jesus administered mercy. Remember the woman at the well? Living in sin, clearly an adulterous woman with a very tangled web of immorality, this woman was forgiven by Jesus. His followers were fine with her being forgiven, but then Jesus did something unimaginable to them…he ACCEPTED her! Accepted her as a believer, accepted her as a follower, accepted her as a (gasp!) friend. And what about that scrawny little man hiding in a tree? That annoying, tax-collector Zaccheas. Jesus also forgave and be-friended him-even going to his home! And then there is the big one…DAVID, the man after God’s own heart. Wait! He was a murderer! He was an adulterer! He was an egotistical law breaker! But God had mercy on David. God forgave him, and inserted David into the blood line of his own son, Jesus! But is it realistic to accept mercy in modern, criminal cases? Is it appropriate to administer mercy or allow a convicted criminal to walk, having served less than the law would allow, or to welcome with open arms someone who previously has lived a criminal existence? Let’s look at some modern examples.
Chuck Colson, special counsel to Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal, was imprisoned in 1974, and served seven months in a federal prison. He came out of prison a changed man. He became a Christian, devoted his life to ministry and founded a prison ministry that is still in existence today. Though he has now gone to his heavenly home, his ministry to hundreds of thousands of Americans, incarcerated and free alike, show that a tainted past is not an effective means of measuring one’s ability to serve or make a difference in our society. Imagine if he had never been given a second chance.
Troy Hartman, a Pastor at a successful church in the mid-west, has impacted thousands of young lives. But several years earlier, Troy was a young college student, living a pretty non-committed existence, when he drove under the influence of alcohol, crashing his Ford Explorer and killing his best friend, Matthew Jones. Just days after this tragedy, Matthew’s mother spoke to Troy and told him that she loved him and she forgave him! Matthew’s family welcomed Troy at the funeral with opened arms. What a lovely picture of forgiveness! But wait! There’s more…she told him to forgive himself, and that God could bring good from the tragic death of her son. To this day, the families remain in close, family-like contact. THIS is what mercy looks like. THIS is what forgiveness looks like.
A merciful response to life’s low-points is my challenge to you and to myself. It’s so easy to pass judgement. It’s so natural to want revenge, but God has shown us in His word the example of mercy. Unmerited favor. Undeserved kindness and forgiveness. Little Joe’s death is my personal reminder that in the big picture of life, tragedy and mistakes are inevitable. His legacy lives on, paving the way for a priceless lesson in extending mercy to our fellow man.
Photography by Lynda Magley
References:TroyHartman.com/ Wikipedia:Charles Colson