“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7)
There is a great story about Corrie Ten Boom, a prisoner in a German concentration camp, that is an excellent example of mercy and forgiveness. After her release, she was traveling through Germany, witnessing her faith. On a particular night she was in Hamburg, giving her testimony. She talked about the horrors of concentration camps, the mistreatment, the torture, and the humiliation that she and many others experienced. At the end of her address, she was standing in front of the little congregation when through that crowd of people she saw a face that caused her to freeze, mid-sentence. It was a face from her past. Much to her horror and dismay he began to walk toward her. He was a prison guard at one of the concentration camps. He was the guard over the women’s shower. Once a week all of the women in the prison were stripped and paraded through the shower like cattle. He was one of the ones who watched and leered as the women paraded before him. As he walked toward her, all of those memories crowded into her mind. She was then faced with a decision as he reached out his hand and said, “Corrie, can you forgive me?” She reached out her hand in an amazing act of not only forgiveness but of mercy. What a woman! I have to admit, I’m not sure I would have been so gracious and merciful as she was!
The Oxford Dictionary describes mercy as “1. a kind or forgiving attitude towards somebody that you have the power to harm or right to punish; 2. an event or a situation to be grateful for, usually because it stops something unpleasant”.
Culture today tells us that if we extend mercy to those who hurt us, we set ourselves up only to be hurt again, or taken advantage of. Just like the philosophy in the film ‘The Karate Kid’, “mercy is for the weak. A man confronts you, he is the enemy. The enemy deserves no mercy”. But, like most of Jesus’ teachings, we are called to act different, to do the opposite of what culture expects of us. Extending mercy involves forgiving when society expects revenge. It is easy to demand our rights, focus solely on justice, judgement and punishment for those who have hurt us. But the bible points to a better way. As R.T. France points out in his commentary, “the importance of mercy and its reciprocal nature is stressed throughout Matthew”. In fact, it is echoed through the whole of the Old and New Testaments. It is a fundamental part of who God is and, therefore, should be a fundamental part of who we are too. A merciful attitude is a product of the previous 4 beatitudes. As we are humbled and recognise our need for our Saviour, as we are broken over our sin, as we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we should naturally become merciful towards others.
What does mercy look like? Mercy is forgiving others; treating people better than they deserve from us; aiding someone who we have no obligation to help. Helping others attain their best outcomes, regardless of how we feel about them. Mercy is more than a feeling. It requires action. Jesus didn’t merely feel pity towards those suffering. He acted. He gave forgiveness. He showed compassion. He was kind. He poured out empathy. Take the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30 – 37). Here was a man who owed nothing to the injured party. It was of no benefit to the Samaritan to stop and help. They were enemies who, had the injured man been well, would have actively sought to avoid each other. Yet, the Samaritan went above and beyond to help the injured man. He reflected the heart of God and the mercy given to him by God. This would have challenged the listeners at the time because, to them, mercy was simply about pardoning injustices and giving money to the needy. Instead, Jesus was talking about something much deeper. Something that comes from the very core of our being, that says ‘I have no choice but to get involved to show love, forgiveness, grace, compassion’. After all, isn’t that what Christ did for us on the cross? We were (and are!) totally undeserving of such forgiveness, yet he died so that we can receive forgiveness and a relationship with God. God doesn’t distinguish between those who deserve his mercy and forgiveness and those who don’t. And neither should we! But, it’s not always easy, is it? I would find it much easier to forgive my cute 5 year old for lying to me, than I would an adult who caused me some great hurt. But, as Matthew 6:14-15 directs us: “…make sure you forgive the faults of others so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you withhold forgiveness from others, your Father withholds forgiveness from you.”
Jesus told another story, the story of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21 -35). Peter had asked how many times should we forgive the same person. Jesus replied with “seventy-seven times” (i.e. always), and then told the story of a servant who owed his master ten thousand bags of gold. The master said that if he could not repay what he owed, he, his wife and his children, and everything he owned would be sold. The servant begged for more time, and the master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and sent him home. Upon arriving home, the servant saw a neighbour who owed him 100 silver coins. The servant demanded his neighbour pay him back immediately. When the neighbour begged for more time, the servant showed no mercy and had him and his family thrown into jail. When the master learnt of what the servant had done, he was furious and had him thrown into jail too until he could pay back what he owed. Jesus ended the story by saying “this is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart”. Mercy isn’t easy, but it is essential.
We need to realise we are shown undeserved mercy each and every day. All the blessings we enjoy are proofs of God’s mercy. As Ephesians 2:4 -5 says: “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.” We don’t deserve it, yet we have been shown mercy. In the same way, we must extend mercy to others.
I would just like to take a second to say what mercy is not. Mercy does not cover or defend sin. It does not deny wrong. It does not say “what you did to me is ok, and I should not feel hurt about it”. But it does show compassion to those who have sinned and seeks to reconcile them to God and each other. Corrie Ten Boom had almost every reason to not accept the man’s hand and forgive him. Heaven knows she experienced the worst injustices, but because she followed Jesus she showed this man great mercy. She gave mercy to him even if he didn’t deserve it. Forgiveness allows us a way to let go of that hurt and bitterness, and enables us to move on. Holding on to the pain we feel will cause us no end of grief. Being merciful is one of the strongest things we can do. If our goal, our dream, as followers of Jesus, is to look like Jesus, then we are to show mercy to the poor, wretched, guilty.
Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? Is there a situation that’s happening right now that requires you to show mercy? Maybe it’s time to dig deep and let mercy flow? If this is something you are struggling with, please get in touch, we’d love to help you heal.
Matthew 5:7, The Message: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment you are “care-full, you find yourselves cared for”