On September 6, 2018 a 26-year-old man named Botham Jean was shot and killed in his Dallas apartment by his neighbor, Amber Guyger. Guyger, an off-duty member of the Dallas Police Department, claimed that she entered Jean’s apartment thinking it was her own, and that she mistook Jean for a burglar. Initially charged only with manslaughter, Guyger was later charged and convicted of murder for a crime that had racial overtones, with the victim being an unarmed black man who was killed in his own home by Guyger, a white police officer. At Guyger’s sentencing hearing, Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt spoke from the witness stand and told Guyger that he forgave her for killing his brother, and asked the presiding judge if he might give Guyger a hug. The judge granted the unusual request, and in a very emotional moment, Brandt Jean embraced his brother’s murderer. The video of Brandt Jean’s testimony is below.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.” Jesus places mercy in the middle of the list for, it would seem, mercy is at the heart of Our Lord’s moral teachings. He is telling us to give the very thing of which we are most in need. Recognizing our need for mercy, we are to give mercy to others. Fr. Simeon Leiva-Merikakis notes that the mercy of which Our Lord speaks is not sentimental, “feel-good,” mercy. The mercy of Christ “is the spontaneous, creative movement of life-bestowing love that bends down wherever it detects misery.” He goes on to say: “Having mercy means bestowing life.” It is an imitation of Christ who is Creator of all things and Redeemer of all things. Humanity’s rebellion against God leads to our misery. Out of love for us, Our Lord enters into our misery and offers us His mercy. Taking upon Himself the burden of sin (though innocent), He becomes the sacrificial offering that atones for our rebellion. From the depths of His suffering on the cross, with His arms spread opened wide as if to embrace us, He cries out: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” And thus, Our Lord transforms the worst sin ever committed into the means of our reconciliation with God.
Mercy breathes new life into the heart of the one who is dead in his sin. We can imagine Amber Guyger sitting in her place as the convicted murderer, helpless and miserable in the face of the crime she committed. An innocent man killed in his home at her hand. The murdered man’s brother, who is also a victim of her act of violence, embraces the cross of mercy and speaks words of forgiveness to her. He offers to her the embrace he cannot give to his brother. She who is weighed down in her guilt, stands erect again, the burden having been lifted by the mercy shown her by a victim of her sin.
It is something that we should consider for ourselves, too. For all of us are subject to judgment. And when we stand before the Lord we will see everything, our whole lives and the effects of all of our actions, in the piercing light of His gaze. The magnitude of our sins will be crushing in its weight, and we will ask Jesus for mercy. Much will depend on the mercy we showed to others, for we are to give the very thing of which we are most in need. We will cultivate a habit of mercy if we first recognize our own need for mercy. The sacrament of Confession is a vital component in the development of a merciful heart. For there, new life in Christ is breathed into the heart of the penitent. That new life must be shared with our neighbor in our own acts of forgiveness and our willingness to embrace the cross of mercy.