Be Merciful, Even as Your Father is Merciful
by Mark Fulmer
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
We are easily satisfied with substitutes. In some cases, we even seek them out. We convince ourselves that the “off-brand” is almost as good as the real thing, just cheaper, more readily available, or less bothersome than the genuine article. I currently frequent a well-known grocery chain which has a well-known habit of providing exactly those sorts of substitutes. The supposed-to-be-better little crackers called Wheat Thins are not sold there. But I can buy a box of crackers that look exactly the same except with the name Thin Wheats emblazoned on the box. I can’t keep from smirking every time.
Sadly, we often settle for substitute sanctification in much the same way. We prefer to take the shortcut, the easy way, or the less painful journey, but still receive a promised blessing. We are prone to gravitate toward culturally defined but substitute standards rather than the truths we learn from Scripture. This is particularly true when we hear the Lord preach about and exemplify becoming people of mercy.
Godly mercy, to which God’s people are called, has its foundation in compassion. When we look at the world through the eyes of our Savior, we will see the need for mercy all around us. And to see that with a heart of compassion means we are moved by that seeing. Our heart is stirred by the brokenness in the same way that Christ’s heart was stirred. He lived with inexpressible joy always in communion with His Heavenly Father, and yet was called a man of sorrows, a man who wept at His friend’s tomb and over His beloved Jerusalem. Think about the number of times, right before a miracle, we learn that Jesus had compassion on the blind man, the hungry multitude, or the grieving widow. And that compassion moved Him to action, He was moved to show mercy.
The cheap substitute for compassion is pity. Pity holds the pitiful at arm’s length. We may give a little, but rarely actually give of ourselves or take the risk that true mercy requires.
Godly mercy, which we are told to emulate, is also characterized by forgiveness. And forgiveness is always intended to be restorative. This is pointedly seen in a lesson most of us first learned in the flannel-board and finger-puppet phase of our childhoods. You remember the paralyzed man on the pallet being air-dropped by his friends, smack-dab into the middle of the room. Listen to Jesus teach about the connection between forgiveness and healing. Jesus shows mercy to the broken man by forgiving him, and thus healing both body and soul.
On one of those days, as He was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Him to heal. And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when He saw their faith, He said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, He answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the man who was paralyzed— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God (Luke 5:17-25).
We certainly do not have the authority to forgive sins in the same way, but we do have the teaching of our Lord that we are to exemplify His Father by being slow to anger and quick to forgive. Think about the way Jesus treated the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery. His mercy poured onto both of them like a cool and gentle shower onto their parched and wounded souls. He forgave them. It makes me ask, “Who should I forgive?”
These days, tolerance masquerades as forgiveness. But at its core, tolerance cares not one whit for the soul or even well-being of the person being tolerated. Sadly, it seems we often hide behind the charade of tolerance to keep from doing the hard work of hard conversations and “others-centered” forgiveness.
Finally, mercy is strength. It is the outpouring of blessing in the name of and because of a saving and ongoing relationship with the King of Glory. To relinquish our demand for recompense and to seek the good even of our enemies is strongly and decidedly Christ-like. And that’s what showing mercy is really all about. True mercy, offered in the name of Jesus, is invoking the very power of God, the very strength of our Creator on behalf of another, whether there’s an immediate and visible payoff for us or not. Mercy is not weakness.
There is no more breath-taking and life-giving example of strong, compassionate, forgiving mercy than the prayer of our Lord on earth’s darkest day.
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:32-38).
Can you fathom it? Jesus prays for God His Father to show mercy to the very ones who were at that very moment torturing the Messiah to death. Indeed, blessed are the merciful.