Almost everyone will agree that it’s a beautiful word and a fine concept. And then we’ll go on and talk about the weather and the most recent idiocy perpetrated by the government or last night’s game.
Until we need it desperately, no longer parsing words about it but recognizing it as our only hope. Until it is as precious and necessary for us as a lifeline is to a man who will surely drown without it.
That’s all of us, by the way. But often we don’t know it. That we need mercy as badly as air is hard-won knowledge. I can’t think of any easy way to get it. But it seems, naturally I suppose, particularly slow in coming to those who are young or “successful.”
The young just haven’t lived the years it usually takes to know themselves or life well enough to be able to realize that very few folks can stand up well under strict justice, demanding what they “deserve.” It’s the older and wiser who cringe at the very idea of getting “what they deserve.”
And those our society thinks of as “successful”? Well, to put it bluntly, jerks have no place, no use, and no time in their lives for mercy. And even for those who are “successful” and kind and nice and well-meaning, it’s understandably difficult for them to imagine that anyone else who worked as hard as they have couldn’t be just as successful and shiny and exemplary. It’s difficult to grasp the idea that lots of folks may be working harder, trying harder, but with much less success because they started with many more serious challenges, real detriments, and far fewer blessings. (Which, by the way, is why Jesus tells us not to judge others. We don’t know their story.) It’s just almost impossible to give much real mercy if only politeness forces us to admit needing much.
It’s as hard, Jesus says, for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. (Only God can get it done.) It’s just as hard for folks who don’t recognize how much mercy they have been given (by God, friends, family, and colleagues) to feel a burning need to give anyone else much.
Yes, mercy remains largely theoretical until we need it desperately for ourselves or those we love. Then it’s gold. But I’m afraid the only way we learn how very precious it is, is by coming face to face with a depth of pain that might destroy us. If not for mercy.
It’s good to practice giving mercy. If you’ve been broken, crushed, you know how badly you need it every moment of every day. If not, just try to believe this: someday you’ll need it. And Jesus himself gives the promise and the warning: Who will receive mercy? The merciful.
To receive mercy, and to give it, is a beautiful thing. Shakespeare wisely wrote that mercy “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / It is twice blest; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” And Abraham Lincoln said, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”
So true. So very true.
Thank God for mercy. In the final analysis, it all comes from him. What a beautiful gift!
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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.