Summary: The give and take of Mercy
Control over ourselves can be a very difficult skill to both obtain and maintain, especially when we are the one who has been wronged. The first thing that comes to mind is a fitting punishment for the person on the other end. Whether it is our marriages, our friendships, our co-workers or even dare I say our enemies and those who seem to find enjoyment in annoying us, harmony must be preserved and harmony means controlling ourselves. Think to yourself and see if you have ever said any of these phrases: 1) he’ll get his 2) he deserves a beating (or any other violent phrase) 3) I’ll give him what he deserves 4) he doesn’t deserve mercy. I have said at least three of these at one point or another, usually in really bad traffic. You know the guy that punches past you in his little hopped up mosquito/ weed eater sounding car and then slams his brakes to turn right in front of you. Instances like this make me want to disassemble his weed eater car and part it out. However, control keeps me from doing anything like that. Instead of reacting and acting like a fool, a little control goes a long way in clearing up misunderstandings.
Today we will talk about how we can gain a little more control over ourselves by understanding and exercising mercy. A better understanding of the nature of mercy should probably come first. “A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded 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.” Mercy would not be mercy if it was deserved. This is definitely the hardest aspect of the entire idea of mercy. We feel everyone should get their just desserts. However when it comes time that we should get ours, it is much easier to wish the tables were turned. We take mercy much more easily than we give it to others who have hurt us. For instance when the cop pulls us over and shows that we were going 20 over, that’s a reckless driving offense and punishable with jail time and a large fine. Yet, he decides to write the ticket for 15 over so that the fine and punishment aren’t nearly as stiff. That is definitely receiving mercy. However, when someone decides to tell lies behind your back, you may go and gossip about them to other people. That is your form of retaliation.
Jesus has another idea for these situations. More than anything else, Jesus wants you to have a happy and fulfilled life in Him. He doesn’t want the people he created at odds with each other. In the beatitudes Jesus tells us the secret to the control that leads to harmony with each other. Matthew 5:7 says “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Great joy will come to the person who gives mercy freely because they will receive mercy from God above. What makes this the best of all is that you have the key. You hold the key to harmony; its name is mercy. You have the choice of pardoning someone from punishment or “giving it to them.” Now there is good news and bad news according to this scripture. Which would you like to hear first?
Bad News – 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful…”
The bad news means that you have to give mercy to others before you will receive mercy from God. Think of mercy as the predecessor to forgiveness. You first have to give up your right to retaliate before you can forgive someone. You cannot forgive someone and then continue to plot revenge for their evil deed. When you enter those situations where you feel that you need to retaliate, many times if not all the time you are running on a reaction. You are no longer acting under a thought out and controlled mindset. You have chosen to give up your faculties and just get angry. You may throw a fit or have a cow as some would put it. You can lose control and once you’ve lost control it is almost inevitable that you will destroy some of the harmony between you and another person. Yes, they may have wronged you but you could have preserved some of the relationship.
Difficulties abound in this area of life. Just understanding that giving mercy is crucial to living can be hard. Separating mercy from forgiveness also poses a challenge. Making ourselves do this seems to be the hardest however. I call this “giving” of mercy the bad news because it is not in our nature to be so forgiving. Let’s be honest, haven’t you ever just really wanted to get back at someone? Lisa Mueller and I have a very funny “friendship” of sorts although some of you would call it a duel of the goofballs. We trade practical jokes back and forth from time to time. One day when Lisa was walking forward I jokingly put my foot out as she passed and she didn’t see it, so she about fell. I would have felt bad had she fallen and hurt herself. Don’t pity her too much because as far as I know she is still plotting to get me back for that. She once put a plop of lotion on her hand and then used the dirty-rotten trick of telling me that I hadn’t shaken her hand that Sunday morning. I felt so guilty that I shook her hand to find myself holding some frilly-nilly lotion. We do it all in good fun but if we didn’t have some mercy for each other, it could escalate into a full scale war. If she gave me what I deserve for all that I dish out to her, I would find a bunch of wild pigs turning my office into a manure farm. No, that is not to give any of you any ideas.