Bobby and I were shooting sparrows in the front yard. One of them alit on the rose trellis at our front door. I took aim and shot; the bird flew away; my dad called me into the house.
“What were you boys shooting at?”
“We were just shooting at some birds.”
Dad showed me a bb-sized hole in the corner of a window pane by the front door. “Do you know how that hole got there?”
My dad was not a harsh father, but I did fear retribution of some kind. Maybe a whipping. Worse, he might take my gun away. I found it very hard to face the truth – even harder to admit it.
“No. Maybe that hole was already there,” I suggested.
“Son, your mother and I were right here when it happened. Was it you or Bobby that made that last shot?”
It crossed my mind to sacrifice my friend. But what if Mom and Dad actually saw who shot the window? What if this was just a set-up to see if I’d tell the truth?
“Well, yeah, it was me, I guess. There was a bird on the trellis. I didn’t think I’d hit the house.”
“Sometimes things happen that you don’t intend to happen. That’s why I’ve told you not to shoot toward the house. What if you’d hit your mother?”
I steeled myself for the punishment sure to come. "I'm sorry," I said.
“Okay. You boys need to call it quits for the day and get ready for supper. And from now on, I don’t want to see you out front with those guns. You’ll have better luck shooting toward the back alley, anyway.”
Whew! That was mercy. After that, my friend and I had many happy days shooting at birds on the back fence, beyond which lay only wheat fields.
I had received mercy, but it was also justice, because justice does not merely try to dole out a punishment that fits the crime. True justice restores or salvages relationships that might otherwise have been destroyed. As much as people try to set justice and mercy in opposition, the truth is there cannot be one without the other.