Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mercy, mercy

Luke 6:27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 


Growing up, I heard a lot of teaching about the gift of Mercy defined as "being able to sense the feelings in the room" or "charitable work such as helping the poor and sick" or "having compassion for people who are hurting." I think we see a little bit of all of that in Scripture's examples of mercy, but really, that picture of mercy is much easier than the mercy I see in Scripture. As far as I can tell, mercy in Scripture is rarely just a feeling but is almost always accompanied by an action that demonstrates mercy to someone who would be otherwise condemned.


I was at a prayer meeting last night and felt God saying he was going to deepen my power to show mercy to those who had hurt me and to bring healing to people who are hurting. I thought, "Cool! I really need more mercy, and I love healing people!" Well, this morning, God made it clear that being given the gift of Mercy is not just warm fuzzy feelings. It is being given the power to show mercy to people, in action and heart, who I would otherwise condemn. I had these grand visions of myself showing mercy to and embracing sinners when everyone else was judging them... their defender... their advocate... their restorer... And then God said, "Ok, now go show mercy, in that same way, to the people who have hurt YOU. Today." Oy... That vision doesn't seem so grand now... This isn't an abstract concept of feeling sorry for people I barely know who are in a mess but have done me no harm. No. Mercy exists for those who have harmed us and who could never undo the harm.


The passage above is a description of what mercy is like. Doing good to those who hurt you. Treating your enemies as friends. Withholding judgment and condemnation and being generous instead. All throughout the Bible we are told of God's mercy on us. The heart of mercy is showing goodness, acceptance and forgiveness to those who could never repay us back and who deserve to be condemned. In Mt 18 in the parable of the merciful master we see mercy portrayed as the master forgiving a debt that he knows will never be repayed. The servant says, "just give me time! I'll repay it!" But the master knows this is impossible so he erases the debt instead, like what God has done for us. Titus 3:5 reminds us that "he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Mercy is never deserved. It is given because the person receiving it lacks something, and it does what they cannot do. When Jesus healed the sick, the people would say, "Jesus, have mercy on me!" They did not say, "I am a good person. You are obligated to heal me now." No, they asked for mercy. Essentially they were saying, "I have nothing, no means for healing, no other hope. You are my only hope, and I do not deserve it. I am asking for your mercy. Please help me or I am lost!" Jesus always responded to a cry for mercy with a touch of healing, forgiveness of sins, restoration and acceptance. Not once did he respond with judgment, condemnation or rejection.  He brought them in.   

So what does this mean for us? It means that when someone harms us in a way that can never be repaired, taken back, or repaid, we show mercy. We acknowledge that the person who harmed us does not deserve mercy, just as we don't, and it is because of this that they need our mercy all the more. It means we give to that person what they could never earn and remove their condemnation. Even more, just like in Titus 3:5, it means bringing healing and renewal where before there was brokenness and need. 

This morning for me it meant treating a person (or persons) as if they had never sinned. The way God treats me... It meant embracing that person again, a generous conversation, the removal of condemnation in my eyes and the giving of acceptance and protection once again. Giving healing. 

Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts. Jesus suffered an excruciating death in order to show mercy to us, to treat us as if we had never sinned. And he suffered to show mercy to the person who harmed us too... Far from being unjust, mercy is a reminder that whatever that person did to us has been paid for by Jesus, that he received the punishment for it already, so that now we are free to show mercy instead. Mercy is not easy, and sometimes it hurts... but it always brings healing, and the reward is amazing: the same in return.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." 


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