The Gospel readings this Lent are shocking, or must be shocking to the most self-righteous Christians among us. This weekend Jesus challenges onlookers who are trying to see if he's the real deal by asking him to judge a sinful woman, "caught in the very act (yikes)" of committing adultery. He says "let the one among you without sin cast the first stone" and spoiler alert: He's the one among them without sin! But when He gets His chance, He doesn't condemn her, even though He's the only one qualified to do so.
Last week the father welcomes his sinful son much to the derision of his "good" son, the realer deal, who doesn't think his father is doing it right. The week before, Jesus showed us that God's love and judgment aren't fair, which is a pretty good thing, because if God worked in our level of justice, we'd be done for.
In all three stories, the character that God steps in to save is a sinner (obviously, right?) but note this too: none of them said they were sorry. None of them apologized, none of them (the fig tree, the prodigal son, the woman) promised to change their ways. None of them earned or deserved or even outright asked for the grace and forgiveness given them.
Every week I see posts on Facebook from some of my "real deal" Christian friends that say things like "I am for supporting the poor, but not for supporting the lazy!" or "if I have to take a drug test for a job, you have to take one for welfare!" and I'm no theologian, but I can't help but see a clear parallel to these Gospel stories.
Maybe being a Christian means giving and giving and giving, even when it's not fair. Maybe it means forgiving, even when someone doesn't have the good manners enough to beg for it. Maybe it means helping and caring without judging someone's worthiness.
The theme that keeps coming through to me this Lent is mercy- unearned, undeserved, sometimes unbidden mercy that is, thank God, offered to us despite our un-real-deal stabs at Christian living. And if we're going to accept that grace, maybe we'd better be willing to give it, too.