Sunday, August 1, 2004

What catches your eye?

Malawi clerics caught canoodling (BBC- 29 July 2004 - Raphael Tenthani)

A Catholic priest and nun have been convicted in Malawi for making love in an airport car park.

The 43-year-old priest and 26-year-old nun were caught "in the act" in a tinted saloon car parked at Lilongwe International Airport.

Any headline with "canoodling" in it is almost guaranteed a smile. And any story about clerical sin is bound to win a cynical smile from many. "The nun tearfully told the magistrate she regretted her brief lapse in judgement, while the priest said that as a man of God he accepted Satan had tempted him."

But what gets lost in the giggling courtrooms of Malwai, and our minds, is this this profound sentence by the judge:

Magistrate Arthur Mtalimanja accepted their pleas in mitigation, but admonished them saying that as servants of God they were the last to be expected to misbehave in public.

"I therefore sentence you to six months imprisonment with hard labour, but I will suspend it... because you have shown remorse," he said. ...

If the couple repeat the offence in the next 18 months they will go to jail, the magistrate said.

Many people might find this magistrate's sentence abominably scandalous. Why should religious people get a pass? Let's be honest: it is scandalous. It is scandalous because it is the Gospel. Mtalimanja does not coddle these lawbreakers as "victims"; he respects their status as morally responsible human beings and, in fact, re-imposes their vocations back on them. He apparently has no interest in the cheap methods of pop-psych "rehabilitation." He recognizes the only medicine there is: truth, repentance, grace, and holiness.

This case makes it that much easier for me to accept the humbling truth of Romans 13 -- that God has established the government as His implement of justice and, in the best cases, of mercy. This case also reminds me that even the most devoted servants of God are not over the Gospel but beneath it. Like Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's *Crime and Punishment*, this priest and this nun are bound by the power of guilt and bound even more strongly by the joy of mercy. Neither we nor they can escape conscience; and neither we nor they can escape God's mercy.

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