Far too often human nature is such that we want to get even if we feel we have been wronged in some way. It doesn’t take much to see this response at play in the world all around us whether in the political arena, work settings, academia, at schools and on playgrounds, in the military, at church, and in families, between friends, and all other types of social settings. In fact, most of the violence and scheming we see in movies, on social media and television, and in life comes from our tendency to seek revenge for wrongs done to us or to those we know and love. It can even extend beyond our own personal feelings of wrongs done to us to entire groups of people we don’t even know for whatever reason we hate them–as in religious wars, racial wars, and that list goes on and on.
And on . . . .
In our churches today we hear a lot about grace, but not so much about mercy. We want God’s grace and mercy for ourselves, but we don’t often extend grace and mercy to others, especially those we don’t like for whatever reason we don’t like them. And half the time we don’t even know them personally, or we’ve heard gossip about them, or we just don’t like the way they look or act, and we cringe at the thought of actually extending either grace or mercy to them. And social media and television have conditioned us into thinking that it’s okay to hate others and try to get back at them in some tangible or back-biting way. You’d think we’ve adopted a new motto in life–“It’s cool to be cruel.” And we judge others constantly as we go about our day.
To start off, here is a brief definition of both grace and mercy from GotQuestions.org:
“Mercy and grace are often confused. While the terms have similar meanings, grace and mercy are not the same. To summarize the difference: mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” (Quote source here.)
“Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy.” When it comes to the subject of mercy, one of the best biblical illustrations of mercy is described in the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant“ in Matthew 18:21-35. In that parable Jesus gives us a classic example of someone who had received great mercy but failed to extend it to others:
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
That is a daunting example of what can happen if we refuse to show mercy to others, and it came directly from Jesus. It should give us pause for thought concerning our own interactions with others on any given day. And as Psalm 139:1-4 states, God even knows our thoughts and what we are going to say before we say anything (or interact with others):
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
So how can we begin to start showing mercy to others in our everyday interactions? First, it starts with a heart attitude of kindness towards others who cross our path. In an article published in 2014 titled, “What Does Everyday Mercy Look Like?” by Vinita Hampton Wright, senior editor at Loyola Press, a novelist, and a facilitator of workshops on creativity, writing, and Ignatian prayer, she writes:
The publishing company I work for recently released the U.S. edition of “The Church of Mercy” by Pope Francis. This book conveys the pope’s vision for a church that could become a healing force in the world simply by communicating and demonstrating the mercy of God.
Little wonder that the word “mercy” beat in my heart for weeks and along with it the question: What does mercy look like? How might I become a person of mercy? In the Christian vocabulary, mercy is a forgiving response to wrongdoing; it is God’s countermove to our sin.
Having lived intentionally as a Christian for more than 40 years, I have avoided the easily labeled sins, acts that would require my arrest or resignation. Yet, I am a persistent sinner. When a reporter asked Francis, “Who are you?” and he answered, “I am a sinner,” I knew that at least I’m in good company. Our pope has named, however, the grand antidote to sin, which is mercy.
As I move through this day, how will I live mercifully? What works and actions will express to others around me the mercy Francis is talking about? In a given day, I do ordinary things, and I traverse a fairly unexciting landscape. My mercy will not show up in grand gestures, and most of the time mercy reveals itself in fleeting moments.
For example, mercy gives you his seat on the bus, acting as if he was about to get up anyway rather than making you feel that he is doing you a favor. Mercy does not let out that sigh–you know the one–the wordless disapproval toward the person in the check-out line ahead of you whose card didn’t swipe, or who can’t find her coupons, or whose toddler is having a meltdown. Mercy offers quiet sympathy and does not convey with her body language that this holdup is ruining her day. Sometimes mercy chooses not to send back the food that isn’t just right, simply because the waitress looks overwhelmed.
When mercy has been wronged, the offended one does not make it difficult for the offender to apologize or ask forgiveness. In fact, mercy does not wait for the other’s action but forgives so quickly that the person needing forgiveness is freer to ask for it. Likewise, at work, at home or in the classroom, mercy creates an atmosphere in which a person feels safe enough to admit his mistake or ask a question. And if mercy must correct someone, it pains her to do it, and she does so gently, without vindictive relish.
Mercy makes a habit of giving others the benefit of the doubt. Mercy is not in the habit of sending deadly glares at people who are annoying. Mercy gives charitably, knowing that eventually someone will take advantage of his generosity. Mercy welcomes you, fully aware that this act may disrupt her own plans.
Mercy relinquishes control when doing so allows another person to grow and learn. Mercy makes it his business to help others succeed. Mercy clears the way for others, so that they can walk on an even path, no matter how halting their steps or injured their souls.
In all these situations, mercy treats power as a sacred trust. I can be merciful because I have some sort of power, the means to affect another’s life, if only for a moment. I act mercifully when I use my power to do kindness in this world.
I was at a conference recently, and it was interesting to observe how the well-known, powerful people wore their power, how they responded to others’ admiration, how they spoke to those who were not so well-known or admired. Some used their power to make room for others and invite their voices; others used their power to dominate the space and the conversation.
In my own work, I have achieved a certain level of expertise and others’ respect. When I sit in a room with colleagues, they feel the weight of my opinions. With a sentence or a glance, I can crush or I can encourage. I can open up the conversation or shut it down.
Most of my sins involve failure at mercy. Whether through my unhopeful opinion of someone, my silent sentences that criticize him, my words grinding away in the privacy of a moving car, my neglect to help, or my refusal to notice when help is needed–each failure of mercy denies the community a bit of healing that might have happened.
Thus, mercy has become my new sin detector, a personal barometer. “Am I showing mercy?” makes for self-assessment that is simple, direct, and difficult to misinterpret. (Quote source here.)
Talk about an article hitting it’s mark! We all can give a knowing “nod” as we fail in so many ways to show mercy to others throughout our day, even if only in our thoughts about them.
All the grandiose acts of mercy I planned on doing to celebrate the year seem farfetched to me now. Just like New Year’s resolutions, the beginning of the year momentum has dwindled and the guilt of not checking things off my list has begun to sink in.
I mean, didn’t Jesus tell us to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36)? So I should be out doing great and marvelous works of mercy that save the world just like God did for us when He sent Jesus, right?
Maybe. But I can’t expect to do marvelous works of mercy if I can’t even do the little ones. So here are 3 super practical ways we can show mercy in our day to day lives just like our Father.
1. Oftentimes We Can Assume The Worst In People, But Mercy Calls Us To Assume And Think The Best.
Has your roommate been annoying you lately? Instead of assuming they’re the worst person in the world, assume they’re having an exceptionally bad day and offer them a warm beverage instead of a cold shoulder.
Did your friend blow off your hangout date? Don’t assume they ditched you for their significant other, rather assume they remembered a paper was due at midnight they never started and forgot to text you to reschedule.
2. Sometimes Our Judgments Of Others Seem Justified, But Mercy Calls Us To Turn Our Judgmental Thoughts Into Complimentary Ones.
Are you thinking about how that girl over there surrounded by boys is a huge flirt? Or how that guy in your class who always has an opinion is a pompous know-it-all?
Counter those negative and judgmental thoughts with ones of mercy by immediately thinking up 3 things to compliment them on (even if the compliments are only in your head).
3. Nothing Is More Merciful Than Forgiving Someone Who Has Wronged You, Even If It’s Something Seemingly Insignificant.
Did your roommate/friend/sibling “borrow” your clothes without asking? Instead of getting angry and upset with them, forgive, forget, and calmly ask them to check with you next time before they borrow your clothes.
Remember that friend from before who blew off your hangout date? Forgive them for not being there, even if it was the twelfth time in a row that they blew you off.
Every day presents opportunities to show mercy. Let’s pray for the grace to see them and rise to those opportunities. After all, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), so can’t we die to ourselves once in awhile and be merciful in forgiveness to others no matter how they’ve wronged us? (Quote source here.)
Again, we have that knowing “nod” as we’ve read through those three ways of showing mercy. In one final article on ways to show mercy to others published in 2015 titled, “Seven Ways to Be Merciful,” by Rick Warren, founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, he writes:
“God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 NLT, second edition)
In yesterday’s devotional (click here to see that devotional), we talked about seven facets of mercy. Today, I want you to consider some personal application questions for each of the aspects. I want to challenge you to commit an act of premeditated mercy in each of these categories this week.
Wait. Isn’t there a tension between mercy and personal responsibility? Yes, there is. But I have personally decided that if I’m going to err, I’m going to err on the side of being too gracious, too merciful, and too forgiving. You can go overboard on mercy — just look at what Jesus did on the cross.
So, how will you be merciful?
Be patient with people’s quirks. Who is that person in your life who has irritating quirks? How can you practice patience with that person this week?
Help anyone around you who is hurting. Who around you is obviously hurting that you can help this week? If you can’t think of anybody, then you’re not paying attention. Look closer!
Give people a second chance. Who do you need to give a second chance to? How can you show that person mercy and compassion this week?
Do good to those who hurt you. Maybe you’re suffering from an old wound that you have not been able to let go of. You need to forgive and then turn it around for good. Who is that person in your life? Will you make a phone call or a visit this week?
Be kind to those who offend you. Who offends you? Maybe it’s a politician or a comedian that you can pray for. Maybe it’s a Facebook friend who has different views and says some pretty offensive things. How can you be intentional about showing kindness to that person this week?
Build bridges of love to the unpopular. Who is the first person who comes to mind when you think of an outcast? Who spends their lunch breaks eating alone or doesn’t seem to have any friends at soccer games? What specific thing will you do this week to bridge the gap between you and that person with love?
Value relationships over rules. Who is an unbeliever you could invite over for dinner in the next few weeks? Will you then step up and invite that person to church? This is your ministry of mercy.
Pray this prayer today: “Heavenly Father, your Word convicts me. I want your blessing in my life, and I want to be a merciful person. As I look at these seven things, I think of shortcomings and weaknesses in my own life. I pray that rather than just hearing the Word, I would do something about it. Give me the courage to be merciful. Give me the strength this week to step out in faith and do radical, premeditated acts of mercy that point others to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.” (Quote source here.)
We now have several ways to show mercy to others, and no more excuses not to show mercy. So start today. And remember what Micah 6:8 states: “O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly…
To love mercy . . .
And to walk humbly . . .
With your God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Mercy Came Running” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:
Two days ago I posted a blog post on my new blog site, “Reflections,” titled “The Road to Pentecost.” I decided to go ahead and post it here on my regular blog, too, since the readership is wider here, and Pentecost is two days away. Here is that blog post:
“One of the great metaphors of the Bible is “the journey.” The Bible is filled with journey upon journey. From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture is full of people on the move”. . . .
The quote above is taken from a Holy Week sermon in 2009 titled, “Three Journeys,” given by The Reverend Michael Seiler, Managing Associate Rector, at The Parish of Saint Matthew in Pacific Palisades, California. Here is more from that sermon:
In the beginning of the Old Testament, Abraham journeys from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land. Many generations later, Abraham’s descendants journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt into the land of Israel. Many generations after that, they journey back to their Promised Land after the tragic downfall of their civilization and their forced exile in Babylon. In the New Testament, Jesus himself journeys through Palestine, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. As he journeys, he shows people what that Kingdom looks like by his deeds of love and power. After the Resurrection, Paul and the apostles journey all over the Roman Empire, and their message reaches to the ends of the earth – and here we are, millennia later, with our journeys touching theirs.
It makes sense that the concept of “the journey” would be so central to Scripture, because we human beings are journeying people. We make sense of our lives by understanding them as journeys, as the unfolding story of who we are and what we do in the world. We think and talk and worry about our career arcs, or our family histories, or our financial forecasts, or our estate plans. In our better moments we think and talk and pray about our spiritual journeys – all ways of thinking about our lives, our stories, about the journey that has been, and the journey that will be. In some deep way, journeying is an elemental part of who we are as human beings.
This image, this metaphor of the journey has been very helpful to me over the past week or so, as I’ve tried to understand the deeper meaning of this morning’s reading from the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us in this passage about the moment when several different journeys intersect, and he tells us something about what it means that those journeys come together.
The first journeyer in John’s Gospel is, of course, Jesus himself. From its very first words, John’s Gospel makes it clear that Jesus is on a journey – a journey that is far more than just a walking tour of Palestine. The pre-eternal Word of God, who is with God and who is God, has journeyed into this world, has chosen to be with us, to become flesh, to reveal his divine being and nature and love to us by becoming a human person in the man Jesus of Nazareth. For John’s Gospel, this is the first and greatest journey – the cosmic journey of Christ from the Father into this world, through suffering and death and then back to the glory of the Father. Every other journey in John’s Gospel, all of the lives and experiences of all the other people in John’s Gospel, only make sense in the light of that great journey of Christ. John’s Gospel wants to tell us that apart from the great journey of Christ, our lives don’t really get anywhere.
Apart from the grace and power and love of Christ, our lives are just a kind of going in circles. But, John wants to tell us, in the light of the great journey of Christ, our lives can be a journey into God.
There are other journeyers in this morning’s Gospel. John doesn’t tell us their names – all we know about them is that they are “some Greeks.” They are the only Greeks – the only non-Jews, that is – in John’s Gospel [see John 12:20-33] who encounter Jesus during his ministry. They have somehow heard of Jesus, they have learned something about him, and what they’ve learned has given them a desire to be with him. They have journeyed to be with Jesus, perhaps over a very long distance. That distance may be geographical, or spiritual, or both. They seek out the follower of Jesus who has the most Greek-sounding name – Philip – and they ask Philip to arrange a meeting with Jesus. And in this moment, their lives, their journeys, and the cosmic journey of Christ from God and to God, suddenly and dramatically intersect.
And that, Jesus says, is precisely the point. The journey of Jesus, the journey of destiny and salvation and healing that he is traveling, now starts to touch not just Jews but non-Jews. The Greeks have arrived. “The hour,” Jesus’ decisive moment of glory and revelation that will climax in the Cross, has come. This is the moment, in John’s Gospel, when the full meaning and power of Jesus’ journey begins to be revealed. This is the moment when the saving journey of Christ begins to be revealed as the work of God that will heal and save and transform not just the covenant people of Israel, but the whole human race. “The hour has come,” Jesus says, “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
These mysterious, unnamed Greeks become the sign that all human journeys, all human lives, find their meaning in Christ. These mysterious, unnamed Greeks are the people through whom Jesus demonstrates that he is drawing every person, bending every journey, toward himself. Christ, now that he is lifted up from the earth by his crucifixion and his resurrection, has become the pole star, the magnetic north, for every journey, for every person, for the meaning and destiny of every individual and of the whole human race. All our journeys are destined to find their meaning by intersecting his great journey. Until our journeys are caught up in the journey of Christ from God and to God, we really are just going around in circles of our own making. Once we make Christ’s journey our own – or rather, once Christ makes our journey his own – then and only then are we are safely on the road to God. . . .
But there is one last detail about this Gospel passage that has puzzled me for years. What happened to the Greeks? Do they get to see Jesus? Doesn’t Jesus ever talk to them? Do they ever get what they came for? John’s Gospel doesn’t say. It just leaves them – and us – hanging. And for years, that loose end in the story drove me crazy.
But now I think I am starting to understand. I think the Greeks did see Jesus. I think John’s Gospel is suggesting to us that the Greeks did see everything they needed to see of Jesus – because they had come to Jerusalem, and they were going to see his suffering and his death and perhaps even be eyewitnesses of his Resurrection. It’s as if they came seeking an interview, but what they got was to SEE the cataclysmic, earthshaking events that were going to unfold in Jerusalem over the next few days. If they showed up, they would see. If they saw, and let the cosmic journey of Christ fully intersect theirs – if they saw, and understood what they were seeing, and if they believed – they would find what they were seeking. They just needed to show up for the next few days. They needed to show up – for Holy Week. They had to be brave enough to take it all in, and to believe what they heard and saw. (Quote source here.)
This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks the end of the seven week Easter Season also known as Eastertide which is the time between the resurrection of Jesus Christ celebrated on Easter Sunday and the filling of the Holy Spirit in his disciples and followers in the Upper Room fifty days later (known as Pentecost–see Acts 2). In an article titled, “What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter?” by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary, he states:
On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon those followers of Jesus who had gathered together in Jerusalem. What happened on the first Pentecost continues to happen to Christians throughout the world today, though usually not in such a dramatic fashion. We rarely get a heavenly wind and tongues of fire anymore. Nevertheless, God pours out the Spirit upon all who put their faith in Jesus Christ and become his disciples (see Romans 8:1-11).
Christians are meant to live in the presence and power of the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit helps us to confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor 12:3), empowers us to serve God with supernatural power (1 Cor 12:4-11), binds us together as the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13), helps us to pray (Rom 8:26), and even intercedes for us with God the Father (Rom 8:27). The Spirit guides us (Gal 5:25), helping us to live like Jesus (Gal 5:22-23).
Personal Implications: Pentecost presents us with an opportunity to consider how we are living each day. Are we relying on the power of God’s Spirit? Are we an open channel for the Spirit’s gifts? Are we attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) growing in our lives? Most Christians I know, including me, live in the presence and power of the Spirit, but only to an extent. We are limited by our fear, our sin, our low expectations, not to mention our tendency to be distracted from God’s work in us. Pentecost offers a chance to confess our failure to live by the Spirit and to ask the Lord to fill us afresh with his power.
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on individual followers of Jesus as they were gathered together in Jerusalem. This gathering became the first Christian church. New believers in Jesus were baptized as they joined this church. They, along with the first followers of Jesus, shared life together, focusing on teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. They shared their belongings so that no one was hungry or needy. As these first Christians lived out their new faith together, “the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Thus we speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the church.
In theory, the Spirit could have been poured out on the followers of Jesus when they were not gathered together. There are surely times when the Holy Spirit touches an individual who is alone in prayer, worship, or ministry to others. But the fact that the Spirit was given to a gathering of believers is not incidental. It underscores the centrality of the church in God’s work in the world. The actions of the earliest Christians put all of this in boldface. The Holy Spirit is not only given to individuals, but also, in a sense to the gathered people of God. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul observes that the church is God’s temple and that the Spirit dwells in the midst of the church (3:16-17; in 1 Cor 6:19-20 we find a complementary emphasis on the dwelling of the Spirit in individual Christians). (Quote source here.)
GotQuestion.org adds the following information on Pentecost Sunday:
Today, in many Christian churches, Pentecost Sunday is celebrated to recognize the gift of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God’s very life, breath and energy live in believers. During this service, John 20:19-23 may be the core of the message about our risen Savior supernaturally appearing to the fear-laden disciples. Their fear gave way to joy when the Lord showed them His hands and side. He assured them peace and repeated the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, saying, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23).
The celebration of Pentecost Sunday reminds us of the reality that we all have the unifying Spirit that was poured out upon the first-century church in Acts 2:1-4. It is a reminder that we are co-heirs with Christ, to suffer with Him that we may also be glorified with Him; that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7); that we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13); and that the Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives inside believers (Romans 8:9-11). This gift of the Holy Spirit that was promised and given to all believers on the first Pentecost is promised for you and your children and for all who are far off whom the Lord our God will call (Acts 2:39). (Quote source here.)
The road from Easter to Pentecost is one of the many roads we as Christians take in our journey of faith. It is crucial that we remember what Jesus said in John 15:5—I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit . . .
For apart from me . . .
You can do . . .
Nothing . . . .
YouTube Video: “Which Way the Winds Blows” by the 2nd Chapter of Acts (1974):