Summary: Our relationships are righted when we offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, in the same way that God has forgiven us.

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Title: The Relationship Choice

Text: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5: 7 (Matthew 18:21-35)

Thesis: Our relationships are righted when we offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, in the same way that God has forgiven us.

Lenten Series: Life’s Healing Choices


In July 2008, Christianity Today magazine's chief editor, David Neff, attended the "Loving God and Neighbor Together" dialogue between Muslims and Christians held at Yale University. While there, he noticed a critical difference between the Christian and Muslim understandings of love, compassion, and mercy. He writes:

The Christian participants had been taught by Jesus that love should be indiscriminate—just as the mercy shown by the Good Samaritan was conditioned on nothing other than the wounded man's need. That may not be the way we generally behave, but it is the way we have learned to think of ourselves. It is the standard against which we measure ourselves.

The Muslim participants startled us Christians by talking about the limits their religion brought to their compassion. Orphans, widows, and others in need through no fault of their own deserve compassion, they said. But in Islamic ethics, there was no obligation to help the person whose drunkenness or gambling or otherwise unwise behavior put them in difficulty.

Reflecting on what I heard those Muslim leaders say, the tension was not between a generous God and a stingy God, as [Japanese theologian] Kosuke Koyama puts it, but between mercy that was defined and conditioned by justice (the Muslim view) and justice that was conditioned and defined by mercy (the Christian view). (David Neff, "A Perfect Pearl," - as a part of The Christian Vision Project)

In other words, in a Muslim culture if a person is undeserving, he does not receive mercy. In a Christian culture an undeserving person receives mercy. In the case of the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:30ff, a man who was foolish enough to take the Jericho Road, knowing that he could get rolled by a bunch of thugs, got what he deserved. He was unwise. Therefore, there was no social obligation for anyone to stop and help the guy when he was in fact, rolled on the Jericho Road.

It’s like that quip we all wish we had the nerve to state when someone finds himself in a crisis and imposes on our good graces to bail them out. I think it goes something like, “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” In other words, “you screwed up, not me; therefore you can fix it yourself. I have no obligation to demonstrate mercy or grace when you deserve to be in the fix you are in.”

Mercy is at the very heart of who God is. In Jeremiah 3:12 God declares, “I am merciful!”

Mercy is at the very core of what God expects of his people. One of the Old Testament prophets stated: “He [God] has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

On an occasion when Jesus had done a kind thing for man on the Sabbath and fell under the scrutiny and criticism of the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice…” Matthew 12:7 Similarly he confronted a group of religious leaders who were scrupulously attending to every jot and tittle of the law, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, so to speak, and neglecting the important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. Matthew 23:23

In the Christian faith, justice is always defined by mercy and it is a good thing for us that that is the case.

I. When we needed mercy, we received mercy.

“But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

Mercy was the defining description of the Apostle Paul’s personal testimony. “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy… here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” I Timothy 1:13, 15-16

In the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin there is seemingly no offense incurred between the shepherd and the sheep that walked away or the woman and the coin that was misplaced. But in the story of the lost son, the son committed a grievous offense against his father.

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