Summary: A reflection on the non-discriminatory mercy of God
GOD’S MERCY FOR THE ‘OUTSIDER’...
The story is told of two university students who got into a bit of a debate about the existence of God... The one student was a fervent atheist and eventually blurted out in desperation, "Well, if there is a God, then may he prove himself by striking me dead right now." Of course nothing happened and he responded by saying to the other student. "You see, there is no God." The second student replied, "You haven’t proven that there is no God, you've only proved that He is a merciful God."
Now arguments and quick-fire responses such as these may be amusing and cute and strike us as being rather clever and sharp-witted; but the fact is that when it comes to the mercy of God (which this atheistic student apparently illustrated) we would do well to steer clear of slogans and smart answers – for the mercy of God shown to us in Christ is something so overwhelmingly glorious and so incredibly vast that we would be better served to pause at the thought of it and attempt to reflect more fully and seriously on what it means to say that God has had mercy on us.
So this is precisely what we will do today – we are going to spend the next few moments reflecting on the mercy of God, especially insofar as his mercy is extended to those of us who are most unworthy to receive it in the first place, and as much as this mercy is revealed so perfectly for us in who Jesus was and what he did, and why on earth God would have mercy on us at all.
Considering the readings we heard earlier (and again the lectionary has provided us with three rather challenging and difficult readings) the theme of God’s mercy may sound a rather odd choice at first, but I believe that when we pay careful attention to the readings we will begin to see that the theme of God’s mercy is indeed one that shines through as the undercurrent, the over-arching theme, that binds our three readings together.
I would put to you this morning that in each of our readings a vitally important aspect of God’s mercy is revealed and we need to come to terms with each one of these aspects if we want to understand God’s mercy more fully. These three aspects I will call the nature of God’s mercy, the shape of God’s mercy, and the reason for God’s mercy. We will take a closer look at each of these aspects by exploring the readings individually, highlighting in each case that aspect which we see present in the text and then at the end we will draw all these aspects into one solid image that will help us understand God’s mercy more fully.
But before we begin with any exploration of these texts we need to know where we will begin our exploration from – our vantage point, as it were – and there can be no better place to begin than with the simple confession that when it comes to the mercy of God we have, not a single one of us, been deserving recipients of it. We have not earned God’s mercy, we have not done anything that would stand as an achievement worthy of God’s mercy and this is the most fundamental truth to understanding God’s mercy, albeit a truth that we more often than not pay only lip-service to. We did not deserve God’s mercy – but in Christ he gave it anyway and he gave it generously!
Legend has it that a certain mother once approached the great military conqueror, Napoleon, seeking a pardon for her son who had committed a crime and would be hanged for it. The emperor replied that the young man had committed this particular offense twice and that justice demanded his death.
"But I don't ask for justice," the mother explained. "I plead for mercy."
"But your son does not deserve mercy," Napoleon replied.
"Sir," the woman cried, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for."
"Well, then," the emperor said, "I will have mercy." And he spared the woman's son.
See friends, this is the greatest and most fundamental truth of mercy – it is not based on whether we deserve it or not, for heaven knows we don’t – it is given freely and generously by the sovereign decision of God himself. Mercy is not based on who we are and what we have done or not done; it is based on who God is, and what he has done in Christ.
So, with that core principle firmly established, let’s begin our exploration of our texts and see what we can learn about the nature, shape and reason for God’s mercy...