Being merciful has a tremendous affect on a community. One kind act can mushroom into a multitude of kind deeds. According to James, by helping one member correct his erring ways, we cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20). Jesus held that to return just one lost individual to his community brings joy in heaven (Luke 15:1-10). It is not that these erring individuals deserve the mercy of a community, but that the community heals them by being merciful. For as long as one of its own is in disrepute, the entire community bears his stain. Paul the apostle urged the Corinthians to restore the offender to avoid further disaster and more serious consequences (II Corinthians 2:5-11). By keeping the offender within the community, they could keep him from further hurting others and himself.
How different the thinking of our community has become from the one Paul talked about or the one Jesus advocated where a brother was to be forgiven seventy times seven per day (Matthew 18:22). We are not intending the hardened criminal but the person that made a minor or accidental mistake and is being excluded from the community. We do not want the responsibility of keeping on eye on them. Let some other town or the state deal with our problem people. We are not acting like the father of the prodigal, but like the brother. The father wanted his lost son back, but not the brother his lost brother (Luke 15:11-31). Yet, the outside world looks on that community as a source of trouble. What is even more tragic is that the community gets blamed for having created an environment that breads criminals and offenders. This is very unfortunate because the community has no healing ministry except punishment. The community is not the source of evil. It begins in the home where the individual is improperly raised. The Bible assigns the primary care of children to the parents (Proverbs 22:6; Deuteronomy 6:7). Merciful parents will teach mercy to their children, not only with gentle words, but with a little pressure on the seat.
Parents who think their little darlings can do no wrong are the cause that we have so much merciless behavior. In fact, they think it is funny when their little boy or girl comes up with clever excuses for having kicked or pushed a sibling or another child. I have seen parents look the other way when their child keeps on behaving distastefully. I saw one of my granddaughters kick her brother and when I inquired of her reason she told me that he had stepped on her foot. The truth was, she had stuck her foot under his rocker first. When she kept on justifying her behavior, I told her to tell her mother. It ended our disagreement instantly. She knew mother would not tolerate such nonsense. And that is what mothers do –- they teach their little ones how to respect others which is mercy in action. Unfortunately, too many mothers and fathers regard such ill manners as an aptitude of being clever and smart. They may delight their parents when they are young, but when they grow up and have not shed their distasteful mannerism, they become obnoxious and an embarrassment.
Being merciful is a task. It is a responsibility of all human beings. Without it, there can be no fairness. Of course, we are not always treated fairly. When we are being assessed incorrectly, we tend to lean toward vindication. But that only perpetuates conflict and hostility. Someone has to interrupt this senseless want for justification. Why not let that someone be you or I? We can stop it by making it our task. We will gain more than we lose by repaying evil with kindness. Is this not what Jesus was teaching when he told his followers to turn the other cheek and walk the second mile (Matthew 5:38-41)? And who of the great generals that commanded great armies and conquered nations have gained the respect and admiration that Jesus has? Yet, He has done it by turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile. Unlike these forgotten world dominators, who forced others to die so that they could rule, Jesus did it by laying down his own life for his followers. And He insisted that those who seek to retain their life should lose it and those who lose it would regain it (Matthew 10:39).
Perhaps the most touching example on the subject was the story of Joseph. It was and still is a classic example of parental mistakes. His brothers hated him because his parents favored him with gifts and assignments. His colorful coat made Joseph stand out like a sore thumb. And, he himself was not very helpful by dreaming about how he was going to boss his brothers and parents. One day, his brothers saw their chance to dispose of their parent’s pet and dumped Joseph in a hole where he was left to die. One brother had an inkling of mercy and persuaded the others to sell him to slave traders. How little did they know at the time that the small act of mercy would one day save them from starvation? Joseph grew up and realized that he was sent to Egypt to save his family from starvation. It was an act of mercy in disguise. God had turned an evil act into good and Joseph stopped feeling revengeful toward his brothers. He too had found mercy by being merciful in Egypt. He forgave his brothers and rescued his entire family from annihilation. He went through hard times. But his merciful heart carried him from an Egyptian dungeon to being second in command over Egypt (Genesis 39).
Equally moving is the story of Rahab. She had an ill reputation in Jericho, but was merciful in heart. Joshua had sent his spies to Jericho. Rahab gave them shelter and helped them escape over a wall. Imagine what reward she would have received had she turned in these spies. Just think what the disappearance of these spies would have done to the Hebrew conquest of Canaan. She had in her hands the future of her own people and most certainly could have prolonged their existence. All she had to do was sacrifice a few Hebrews. These Hebrew spies were kinder to her than her own men folk and she reciprocated. Due to her merciful action, the invading Hebrews placed her on the honor role of the Hebrew elite. Future generations would sing about her compassion and mercy (Joshuah 6). Rahab had made mercy her task and was amply rewarded for it. Mercy only could treat Rahab’s sin.
Jesus was a guest in the home of Simon the Pharisee and a disreputable woman interrupted their dinner by doing to Jesus’ feet what Simon should have done to his head. She wept over his feet, dried them with her hair, kissed them and poured costly perfume over them. Jesus saw through this hypocrite and asked him how he would feel if he were indebt and could not pay back? He was asked to choose between a five hundred pound debtor and a fifty pound one. Simon had no choice but chose the larger debtor as the more grateful one, but was too blind to see himself as the one also in need of mercy. Jesus’ stunning conclusion was, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus was a master in illustrating the need for being merciful. To teach it to the religious of his day, He used a Parable from a shrew worldly steward. This steward had a better relationship with his subordinates than with his master. Before he was dismissed for mismanaging his master’s property, he had been merciful toward those who were in debt to his master. He reduced their debt and thereby secured for himself a place among them when he would be in need of their help. His shrewdness paid off and his lord took note of his kindness toward others. Jesus concluded that God would deal with man on a similar basis (Luke 16:1-9). The Almighty preferred mercy to sacrifice (Micah 6: 8).
I was called to a Church in New York City that was built and served by Walter Rauschenbusch, father of “The Social Gospel.” Some of the older members recalled that one day a thief had taken valuable utensils. He was apprehended and returned to church because the thief had told the arresting officer that the pastor had actually given him the goods. The good pastor told the officer that the thief could have the utensils. That act of mercy brought a change in the heart of the thief. He did not only return the stolen goods but became a member of that pastor’s congregation. One day a Bus hit the pastor. He had cause for a lawsuit; yet, he apologized to the bus driver for having gotten in his way. This man never sought fault in others, but concentrated on how he would feel if were he in other people’s shoes. His heart bled for dying children and a community that was being destroyed by World War One, hatred for Germans. Several decades later, that same community suffered the same fate it had inflicted on others. It would have fared better, had it practiced a little more mercy and less hatred.
Mercy is not an aimless favor of God or man. It has to abide by some guidelines. The writer of the Fourth Gospel summed it up, “The Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Just as Moses was directed to give his people the law as their guideline, so Jesus Christ was directed to give to his people grace and truth as guidelines. Grace embodies a special favor or gift that is charitable and generous. It recognizes the fact that one cannot replace the loss of an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth, or a life for a life. Grace and mercy have been ordained of God to fill that void and Jesus, the Son of God set the example when He forgave sin (Luke 7:9). And Jesus assigned the same task of being merciful to his followers (John 20:21; Matthew 6:14-15). The “blessed” (makarioi) take on the attitude of Christ and of their Heavenly Father when they live in Grace and practice mercy. It is mercy that earns man his greatest reward. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).