On a cold, winter Saturday morning I drove around a curve and was hit smack in the eyes by the very bright sunrise. I struggled to adjust to the light and saw that the upcoming light was green so I thought I was good to go. What I failed to notice in the blinding sun was the car stopped at the green light Smack! Although I was not driving very fast, it is amazing how easily cars crumple right before your eyes.
As we waited for the police officer to arrive I replayed the situation in my mind. It’s a bad intersection, the sun was exceedingly bright, that car shouldn’t have been stopped at a green light, the big snow piles didn’t give me enough room to merge. But no matter how I weighed the facts it came down to one gloomy conclusion. I was GUILTY. I hit a car and there was no way I could undo it. Nobody was hurt, but there was plenty of damage to both cars. The officer apologized that he had to give me a ticket, but I was the moving vehicle and I was responsible. I believe the word is GUILTY. I carried that word around for several weeks.
There was an option on the ticket to go to court and accept responsibility but possibly bargain down the charge to an infraction that did not carry points. Somehow paying the fine did not bother me as much as having those points follow me around on my previously clean driving record. Even so, I almost didn’t go to court because I kept adding up the facts and coming out GUILTY and there was no way to undo what I had done.
I arrived at court on the appointed day and waited in the crowded court room as many people pleaded their case and almost every one lost their case. Only the man whose wife was in the hospital dying received any mercy. Finally my name was called. I anxiously approached the bench, praying for grace. The judge looked down at me and said “The officer did not show up to testify so the case is dismissed.” Dismissed? No fine, no citation, no points, no nothing. Simply dismissed.
In that moment, and as I have thought about it since then, I have realized the amazing freedom from guilt that was given to me that day. I deserved punishment but I was given mercy instead. This past weekend I went to confession and I could not help but see the connection. Guilty of my sins, I was forgiven. My guilt is gone. It no longer hangs around my neck or weighs on my mind. Forgiven.
Traffic court took away my civil guilt because a schedule conflict kept that officer away from court that morning. Confession took away the deeper guilt of my sinfulness. Washed away. Free. Clean. Saved by the loving mercy of Jesus Christ. To have the case dismissed in traffic court was a great thing. To be forgiven is so much better. Gratitude for that loving mercy is on my mind as I observe these last days of Lent and the great events that made that forgiveness possible.