“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” (Abraham Lincoln)
Justice and mercy go together. Yes, we all want justice. We want to reward good behavior and punish the bad. But we all want mercy when we are on the wrong end of the equation. And I trust we all want to give mercy when we are the wronged party, especially when it comes to our loved ones.
“This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you!” I doubt that you were ever in need of punishment as a kid, so you may not have heard this. I think I may have a time or two. It’s one of those sayings you don’t truly appreciate until you are the parent. It is so true.
In thinking about the topic of mercy, the first thing that came to mind was an old Marvin Gaye song. It starts, “Woah, ah mercy, mercy me. Ah, things ain’t what they used to be.” Wow, that’s for sure. Interestingly, this song appeared on the 1971 album titled, What’s Going On? They should re-release it this year, don’t you think?
A quick aside. The lyrics of the title track contain this verse:
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.
Apparently Marvin’s father was not swayed by these words. He shot and killed his own son. But mercy was granted and he was only given a suspended sentence and probation for his crime. I would imagine the worse punishment for him was living out his remaining 14-years of life with full knowledge of his sin, especially since he was an ordained minister.
This story reminded me of the ultimate mercy we have all been granted:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Our Father, rather than condemning us for our sins as He rightfully could, instead granted us mercy through the death of His only son, Jesus Christ. Talk about hurting Him more than it hurt us … Wow!
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
God’s mercy is greater than our sins … Amazing! And what does God ask of us in return? Belief. And how do we show our belief? My good friend and college roommate sent me this quote last week that sums it up nicely. He referred to it in delivering a eulogy recently.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
We’ve discussed justice and humility previously. What about mercy, what are we to do to hold up our part of the eternal life bargain?
Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Now for the hard part, how do we demonstrate the mercy we are asked to provide? Thankfully we were given very specific instructions in Matthew 25:31-46. At the end times The Son of Man separates the sheep (good guys) from the goats (you don’t want to be one).
He thanks the sheep by saying: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
The righteous sheep asked: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
Jesus said to them in reply: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” But he told the goats: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I came to know the types of mercy described above as the Corporal Works of Mercy. Corporal meaning, of the body. These are kind and charitable acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs. They respond to the basic needs of humanity. Here is a list for your reference:
Corporal Works of Mercy
I think these are fairly self-explanatory and you instinctively know what to do. The most efficient and effective way to provide these mercy’s is to donate your time, talent, and treasure to organizations and causes that already serve in these areas. There are many and they are only a quick internet search away.
The second category of mercy’s, that are not as conveniently found in the Bible relate to our spiritual and emotional needs. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are acts of compassion by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs. We are all in need of getting and giving these types mercy throughout our lifetimes.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
There, that should give us all something to work on for the next, well, rest of our lives. I think the best way to remember all of these areas of mercy is by once again going back to the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We are all in need of mercy from time to time, or maybe continuously. And remember, you are not alone. There is someone else out there right now in need of the same mercy as you.
I’m thinking a good rule of thumb is to reach out to someone else that you suspect is in the same need as you. Ask them for help. You will be helping them at the same time. In this way you will build a strong support system for yourself, while also providing merciful support to others.
Jim, my above referenced friend, ended his eulogy by stating that his departed friend lived a blessed life because he knew that to live a blessed life, you need to bless others. Words to live by…
Have Mercy, Scott