Matthew 5:7 – “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”
The Master is our model for mercy, and if we call ourselves His faithful followers then we must emulate Him. Mercy doesn’t just imitate God, it disappoints the devil. So how do we cultivate a community of compassion? First we must fall in love with mercy, Micah 6:8 makes it clear that God calls us “to love mercy.” Falling in love with mercy means to marvel at the miracle of mercy and lose ourselves in its exquisite beauty. But mercy is not just something we marvel at but something that should move us. As disciples we are called to demonstrate mercy, Zechariah 7:9 says: “… Show mercy and compassion to one another.” Are you responding to mercy? Romans 12:1 states that because of God’s mercy, we should “offer our bodies as living sacrifices.” If we are going to practicing mercy we must first put it on, Colossians 3:12 says that we are to “clothe ourselves with compassion.” This means that we are to daily dress in God’s mercy because ministry flows most freely when it is clothed in mercy. In 2 Corinthians 4:1, Paul links the mercy he has received to the ministry he has been given: “…since through God’s mercy we have this ministry.” If we are going to consistently demonstrate mercy then it has to be our default not an afterthought. James 2:13 reminds us that we are to measure out mercy not judgment: “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” Jesus consistently demonstrated compassion, He was motivated by mercy and He calls His followers to walk in His footsteps. Many of us want to be given mercy yet seem so unwilling to grant it. Sometimes it’s the religious who are the most rigid and seem to be the most mean and merciless, especially with those who sin differently than they do. On two separate occasions in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 showing us that mercy is a mandate, not an option. In the first instance, Matthew 9:13, Jesus confronts those who are critical and jump to judging Him because He is spending time with sinners: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” The second is seen in Matthew 12, when the Pharisees criticize and call out His disciples as sinners for picking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus reminds these religious experts of truth by taking them back to the book of Hosea, showing them that they are missing the magnificence of mercy, Matthew 12:7: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” If the religious leaders needed to learn that God desires mercy above any sacrifice one could make then we also need to learn this lesson. Our sinful nature is one of criticism and condemnation not compassion, but as His followers we are called to forgive freely. In order to grasp the full meaning of mercy, and see both sides of compassions coin Jesus told two parables. The first one is found in Matthew 18 and focuses on forgiveness because in God’s mercy, He has forgiven us. Here mercy means to release the debt. The second is found in Luke 10, it’s the story of the Good Samaritan where we see that compassion should compel us to act. Our feelings of mercy should be fleshed out in ministry. Mercy is not just about releasing debtors but restoring the downtrodden. Mercy embraces both forgiveness for the sinner and compassion for the suffering.
- Releasing the Debt
In Matthew 18:21 Peter as he pondered forgiveness not only presented Jesus with a question but suggested the answer: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Peters posing a question and presented an answer all in the same sentence suggest that this was more of a statement than a question. Rather than waiting for Jesus to respond he suggesting that seven times would be a good limit to forgiveness. The religious rabbis taught that you had to forgive three times before you could retaliate, so Peter was presenting a very pious number. He doubled what was expected and added one for good measure. Jesus responded with a ridiculous number: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times” reminding us to stop trying to keep score and put a measure on mercy. Mercy doesn’t waste its time keeping tally the number of times it has been wronged. Mercies maddening quality means it is undeserved, unmerited, and unfair, and because forgiveness without limits is such a hard lesson for us to grasp Jesus went on to illustrate His point with a parable. Matthew 18:23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.” At this point in the story the servant did what most of us would have done. He fell on his knees and said, “Be patient with me, and I will pay back everything.” The king was moved with mercy and not only set him free but also forgave the debt. This is the meaning of mercy, it means to cancel the debt. But the story doesn’t stop with us receiving mercy Jesus calls us to respond to others in mercy. As this forgiven and free man walked away he ran into one who owed him much less but instead of forgiving the debt, verse 28 says “He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.” The forgiven man’s friend fell to his knees asking for the same mercy, in fact, his plea was almost identical, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it” But instead of forgiveness he responded with revenge and “had the man thrown in prison until he could pay the debt.” Why do we want to put those who cause us pain in prison, simple we want them to suffer. But the world is watching and it’s actually our witness as Christians which becomes compromised and starts to suffer. When word got around it wasn’t the fact that the man would not forgive that was so shocking, it was that he was so unmerciful when mercy had been modeled to him. Scripture tells us that servants who will not model mercy make the Master mad. We never really get grace until we learn to give it. When we refuse to forgive we find that it is actually us who becomes imprisoned. While the world watched the master called him out for the wicked servant that he was, “You wicked servant. 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 turned him over to the torturers until he paid back all he owed.” Are you modeling the Masters mercy or are you harboring motives of murder? Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you“ So who do you need to free with forgiveness? Will you release them from debt or will you respond with revenge? Forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy but least employ. Yet nothing is a greater witness to the world that we have been recipients of mercy than our own readiness to forgive. Will you continue the cycle of pain by responding in sin and extending the prison sentence, or will you respond to the Savior and setting them free?