I wonder if you have ever heard the expression, “You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” I think we use this message because we don’t want to have to deal with difficult situations. In a way, it’s our twisted sense of justice. If we thought about it, we could see ourselves in the same situation, but we want to make sure they suffer a little, so they won’t make THAT mistake again. Sometimes, it makes us feel righter if they are punished. Even though we feel some sympathy for them, we figure they “got what they deserved.”
The problem is that is not the attitude of Jesus or the Bible. Sometimes our circumstances ARE what we need to teach us (discipline us). But, ultimately what we really need is mercy.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7)
The Pharisees were usually people that showed little mercy. Jesus talked about one of them that prayed in the middle of the street. He said, “I am thankful that I am not like other people…like this tax collector.” (Luke 18). Then, he proceeded to tell God what he had accomplished. There it is—that need to feel superior! It derails God’s plan for mercy. The tax collector could have responded with his list of accomplishments, but he chose to respond with the only proper response to life woes, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” It’s a choice—the loud and proud proclamation of our worth and our judgment of others or the honest plea of a sinner. Jesus said that the prayer for mercy connected (justified) him because he was humble.
Justice often implies that something is due to us. This is what we should hope for under-served people. These might be people that work hard and try and still cannot get what should be due them. We fight for them and try to help lift them up from the imbalance of life. Some people don’t have bootstraps to pull up. Sometimes our actions can only be classified as a gift (grace). Very often I do something for my children that they don’t deserve, or that they didn’t ask for. If I send them money electronically, I sometimes put in the memo section, “just because.” But mercy is not just for the under-served—it is for the undeserving. Mercy is for the sinner—and sinners are us! Mercy is very literally NOT getting what we deserve. It is why we need to regularly pray the Jesus prayer:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me
It is hard to receive mercy if we don’t have an attitude of mercy for others. When we give people just what we think they deserve, it’s hard to imagine God would show us mercy. Brian Zhand, in Beauty Saves the World says, “the passion for justice needs to be tempered by a deep commitment to mercy, or we end up justifying viciousness in the name of justice.”
It’s interesting how connected the beatitudes are. It’s hard to imagine a heart of mercy without being poor in spirit, which is the first beatitude. When we are too spiritual and don’t realize our own poverty, we punish others instead of showing mercy. It’s also hard to imagine a heart of mercy without the second beatitude, a heart that mourns. When we see ourselves and others as we really are, we know that we need God’s mercy and others need it from us. It’s hard to imagine a heart of mercy without the third beatitude, meekness. Whatever power we posses to destroy our enemies has to brought under control in order to show mercy. It’s hard to imagine a heart of mercy without the fourth beatitude, longing for righteousness and justice. Sometimes they need to be lifted up—sometimes they need something they don’t deserve—but, more often, it’s better to not give them what they deserve—that is mercy!
For judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)
Imagine someone at work yells at you. For some of us, that doesn’t take a big imagination. Afterward, the two of you don’t speak to each other for a couple of days. You know you need to forgive them. While you agree that they deserve to be told off or put in their place, the path to forgiveness needs mercy, not judgement—the Bible says it many times.
Joseph showed us a pretty good example after his brothers sold him into slavery. He recovers from the trauma and eventually oversees everything his brother’s need and want during the famine. What a great opportunity to get them back! When they said, “we are your slaves,” he could have had the biggest get even party ever – they were at his disposal. Talk about justice! Most of us might have even encouraged him to make them pay! Instead Joseph says, “Am I in the place of God?” and he shows them mercy.
I assume we are afraid that people won’t be reformed unless we punish them for their actions. Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He taught us that it is not when we find atonement but when we find forgiveness. And, forgiveness comes through mercy. If mercy is not expressed, we tend toward perpetual punishment. If we forgo mercy, we keep others and ourselves in slavery to the incident or the behavior. The unresolved battle lingers and festers usually into something worse.
Jesus didn’t just preach that the beatitudes were right – he lived them. Mercy is no exception. His life showed that he believed in showing mercy. He didn’t give people what they deserved—even His disciples should be thankful for that.
I am thankful that God often lifts us up when we are under-served.
I am thankful that He also gives us grace that is undeserved.
But, I may be the most thankful that mercy when I am under fire.
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