I’ve been challenged these last few weeks on the idea of mercy. For me, when I think about mercy I think about it in terms of withholding. One example of this is sports games. We have set in our game system a “mercy” clock. That is, if the opponent has scored an x amount of points in an x amount of time, to keep the other team from being humiliated anymore they keep the clock running to speed up the game.
Another example is when I was young I would wrestle with my friends or cousins ( I didn’t have any brothers and I never wrestled my sister!) to the point that one of us would pin down the other and be released, one had to say the secret word. Sometimes it was uncle, mercy, or another silly word the oppressor wanted to use. Mercy, at least for me, was always held with this assumption of withholding or restraint to someone. It almost blurs the lines between forgiveness and grace. However, it is much more than forgiving someone and extending grace to another. Mercy from the Biblical sense is altogether different.
Of course, mercy can have in it the components of grace and forgiveness, but that doesn’t end with these two ideas. One of the best examples of mercy being more is the story of the good Samaritan. A famous passage that we all look at and one that I have read over and over again and I have missed an important part in this story. In fact, the part I’m talking about is not in the story itself, but the interaction between the Pharisee and Jesus.
After Jesus finishes the story he asks the Pharisee which one of these was the neighbor. Of course, we know the two who were supposed to be the hero become the failures and the so-called failure/outcast of society becomes the hero. Interestingly thou is the response of the Pharisee. He doesn’t say, “the one who was kind”. He doesn’t say, “the one who had pity”. What he says is, “the one who showed mercy!” The Pharisee understood the Biblical sense of Mercy is more than just a feeling or withholding judgment on someone. It is the feeling of empathy, sorrow, pity, compassion and doing something about it. Richard Nathan in his book Both And describes Mercy as “Compassion in Action”.
I think he is correct. God’s mercy, like God’s love, is uniquely different than our version of mercy or love. When we think about mercy in this regard, think about the passages of God and mercy. Ps. 23:6 “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me…” or Eph. 2:4-5 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” God looks upon us with compassion and does something about it!
God’s mercy is about walking with us in suffering and finding a solution to stop that suffering. One pastor that I know well has a famous saying, “New mornings, new mercies.” I find encouragement that despite the messes I get in, no matter how far I fall from grace, and no matter how deep the sin I’m in, God’s Mercy has no limits. Like the Samaritan, he goes above and beyond what was required of him to take care of the broken man. I also see Jesus hinting at the fact this is what he does for us. He goes beyond saying, “there, there, everything is alright” and putting an arm around us. He goes to the cross on our behalf and heals us of our suffering. He is both-and in this passage, the healer and suffering combined into one.
More importantly, Jesus also says this, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9:13
In other words, how can you have mercy in your life today? Where can you extend the mercy given to you towards others?
As quick as the Pharisee responded to the answer about the Parable, “the one who showed Mercy.” Jesus’ response was also quick to respond, “Go and do likewise.”
Where is Mercy showing up in your life towards others-Compassion plus Action?