Unexpected Mercy

A Cheater Meets Grace

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I was caught, and I knew it. The test was almost over when I noticed Mr. Markham's shadow over my desk. I cringed as I looked up into his frowning face. I elbowed my friend Danny, who was still looking at his test. He jumped as Mr. Markham leaned over us and whispered, “I need to see you both after the test.”

Mr. Markham’s hands seemed to move in slow motion as he reached out to take the tests from our desks. As he walked back to his desk, Danny and I shared a scared look.

I had studied for the test. I knew the material. It was a Japanese language test. Mr. Markham had been a missionary in Guam at an English language school and had learned Japanese. He'd offered to teach it to the seventh grade, and the school had agreed. Throughout the year we'd been learning simple Japanese, from basic phrases, characters, and numbers to Japanese customs. We were in the middle of the final test of the year when my friend Danny nudged me and whispered, “I don't know the answer to number eight.”

I hesitated, knowing I shouldn't tell him. But I didn't want him angry with me, either, so I scooted my paper over and lifted up my arm so he could see the symbols I had written. He carefully copied them down. As I moved to return to my test, he nudged me again. 

“I don't know the answer for number seven, either.” 

I sighed, scooted my paper back, and waited for him to copy all the answers he didn't have and then erase and rewrite the ones he had wrong. As he finished, I pulled my paper back and found myself staring up into Mr. Markham’s stern gaze. 

The bell rang, and the other students turned in their tests and filed out of the classroom for recess. When they were gone, Mr. Markham called for us to come up to his desk. He looked at me first, then at Danny, and then he asked me bluntly, “Were you cheating?” 

My mind went blank, and I looked at Danny. He had his head down and wasn't about to say anything. I turned my face back to Mr. Markham. While we'd been waiting for the end of the test, I'd been coming up with dozens of reasons and excuses to explain our misdeed. But when he asked, I said the first and only thing that popped into my head. “Yes, we were.” 

His eyebrows lifted, showing a hint of surprise at my answer. “All right,” he said, nodding. “Why don't you two go wait outside while I decide what to do about this.” We nodded numbly and walked out to the playground. We sat silently in the grass watching the other kids play soccer. 

“Why didn't you make something up?” Danny finally asked scornfully. 

“I couldn't think of anything. Sorry.” I shrugged. 

I didn't know why I hadn't made something up. We went back to sitting in silence, waiting for Mr. Markham to come and tell us our fate. Finally we saw Mr. Markham walking toward us. He sat down next to us and waited until we were both looking at him. Then he said, “Here's what's going to happen. Because you told me the truth, I've decided that you won't be punished for cheating. I'm going to take this test out and average your grades.” 

Danny and I were shocked. A sense of relief flooded me. We both nodded numbly. Mr. Markham nodded and got up. As we joined the other kids playing, I realized that we didn't deserve to be forgiven so easily. We had cheated. But then I realized that Mr. Markham had shown us the same mercy God shows us when we do something wrong. Jesus had a lesson for me. When Mr. Markham asked if we'd been cheating, I couldn't lie. I wanted to, but when the words came out, they were only truth. I believe God wanted to show me the goodness and mercy that truth can bring.


6 Ways to Say


Chinese: Zhēnxiàng

Japanese: Shinjitsu 

Polish: Prawda

Norwegian: Sannhet

Romanian: adevăr

Vietnamese: Sự thật


Tell the Truth

Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper,

but the one who confesses and renounces them

finds mercy.

Proverbs 28:13

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