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

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