“This Lent needs to be not what you will give up, but what you will live for. Not how you might demonstrate your piety, but how you might live in true obedience to God. Not what you will prove, but what reproves you” (Karoline Lewis in “Working Preacher” (Feb. 26, 2017).
What is mercy? To me mercy is cold water when I am parched and desperate for relief or long-awaited relief from a persistent leg cramp or walking out of humid, 95-degree Michigan heat into an air-conditioned room. Before reading the rest of this post, take a minute to try to feel what being shown mercy is like. (Send your ideas in a comment.)
Before writing this post, I spent some time with dictionary definitions of the word mercy. The one I like best is from Vocabulary.com:
“Compassion leads you to have mercy, which is like forgiveness. If you have mercy on someone, you let them off the hook or are kind to them somehow.”
Here are some questions I have about mercy.
♥ Does mercy precede forgiveness or accompany it?
♥ Do we really “love mercy” as a value? Or do we resent mercy when the “other” seems to receive it?
♥ Does everyone recognize mercy when they or someone they love receives it? Do you have to be shown mercy to give mercy?
♥ How is the political climate we are enduring driving the concept of mercy underground?
♥ If we can’t show mercy, is it even possible to say that we have compassion?
♥ Can we really claim to be a “Christian” or a Christ-follower if we do not show mercy?
Amy Oden says that “Mercy is the currency of the kingdom of heaven” (Working Preacher website, February 2, 2014). What does that mean? Currency makes it possible to do business with each other. Currency is what we exchange when we receive something and what we receive when we give something. Without currency the world would be chaos. And without mercy our world is in chaos. Mercy re-orders life in the Kingdom of God. It should re-order our churches, our families, our social justice system – and our politics. As Pope Francis has shared: We are loved despite our sinfulness and must love others in the same way.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus bestows happiness on people who show mercy and promises that if we are merciful, we will receive mercy. (“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5: 7).
Micah 6:8 shows us how to show mercy.
“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously” (The MSG)
Where can you show mercy today? With whom can you share the currency of mercy? Whom do you need to confront about the lack of mercy in their attitude. Our master said that when you bestow it you will receive it. What greater reward can there be?
I vividly remember that act of terror and mercy, my son. Great example.
A little inside joke here, but also applicable to the question I think. Being shown mercy is like being a young child and being told that you’re going to need a shot, even though you are terrified of needles, and then being given a reprieve after successfully running away from the doctor and nurses.