Saturday, November 17, 2012

Where Justice and Mercy Meet

 After posing outside the White House for a few photos and then stopping in at my cousin’s restaurant for a quick visit, we didn’t have much time to spare. So our fast walk turned into a run. But we lost several precious minutes as we tried to remember where we had parked.

Charly and Jordan were in the lead and reached our van in despair to find a $100 parking ticket on the windshield.

“Are you serious?” The boys and I asked as we arrived moments later. We looked at our watches. We were exactly 6 minutes late.

It was true. Our meter expired at 4:00 and the ticket was issued at 4:01. We imagined a cold-hearted ticket police waiting beside our van for the minute hand to pass and then slapping down the hefty ticket with an evil grin. Got them.

It was justice. We were late.

But we wrote a letter to the address on the back of the ticket to plead for mercy.

We returned to China in September without having received a response. Then last week, my Mom told us that a letter came for us from the District of Columbia’s Department of Motor Vehicles: “We determined that your correspondence was not answered within the normal processing time frames. A Hearing Examiner administratively dismissed the ticket.”

Mercy.

Hoping for the gentle hand of mercy, but prepared for the cold enforcement of justice. Reminded me of the time when I stood before an intimidating judge in a courtroom 20 years ago. I had photocopies of all my canceled checks to prove that I had paid my third of the rent. But when the judge asked me the question, “Does your landlord deserve the rent money that he has not received?” All I could manage was a quiet “Yes.” And I was dismissed. Left to wonder if the judge would rule that I needed to pay the landlord the debt that actually could be called mine. Hoping he would determine that I didn’t need to pay it.

Ten months earlier I had signed a lease for a 3 bedroom apartment with a friend from the dorms at the University of Missouri and one of her friends who I didn’t know. That friend ended up changing her plans to come to Columbia and got a job in St. Louis instead. She faithfully paid her third of the rent— for her room that remained empty— for a few months. But after unsuccessfully trying to find someone to sublease from her, she lost interest in the Columbia apartment, and stopped paying. So our landlord took all three of us to court. Technically, we learned that each of the three of us was legally responsible for all of the rent.

Thankfully the day after the court case I heard that the St. Louis friend had worked out an agreement with the landlord to pay the back rent over time. I was free of the debt.

Mercy.

On a side note, that year was definitely not my best landlord experience for another reason. One morning I was in the kitchen fixing breakfast when I saw a man climbing a ladder outside my window. Our eyes locked and he didn’t smile. There was no friendly wave on his part or any recognition on my part that he was the landlord. No thought entered my mind that maybe he was climbing up the ladder in order to do repairs on the roof. Suffice it to say, I freaked out that a man I didn’t know looked like he was about to break in. So I called 911.

If my landlord remembers me at all, his memories are probably not fond ones. But I am grateful to him for that humbling experience of standing in a courtroom and feeling like I truly had nothing to say to defend myself. It made me appreciate in a new way what Jesus has done on my behalf. He mercifully stands between me and the Judge and declares me “not guilty.” He has clothed me a His spotless robe of righteousness, and has taken on Himself the punishment that I deserved. Willingly.

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Justice and mercy meet in Jesus our Savior.

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