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Everyday Mercy

July 18, 2022

Abraham confronted him, ‘Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad?’ . . . He wouldn’t quit, ‘Don’t get angry, Master—this is the last time. What if you only come up with ten?’ ‘For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.’” (Genesis 18: 23, 32, The Message).

During my 41 years of practicing law, I have been in many situations where mercy or the lack thereof was on full display.  This happens in all professions, but my experience is in the law.  Some lawyers and judges feel the need to dominate the conversation that gives no quarter to anyone else daring to venture an opinion.  But I also know many lawyers and judges who use their power and authority to patiently teach, to listen carefully, to seek the truth, and to show compassion to the less knowledgeable or less articulate. 

What does it mean to show mercy? What does mercy look like?  To show mercy is to forgive or to show compassion to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Next week’s Scripture texts provide examples of God’s mercy on his people. These scriptures encourage us to fall on God’s mercy and they encourage us to show mercy in our dealings with others.[1]

Abraham had the temerity to confront God to ask him whether he was going to destroy the good people of Sodom along with those who had turned against God.   God knew all of the answers before Abraham asked, but he graciously allowed Abraham to pursue justice and mercy.  God shows mercy in agreeing to spare the entire city if just ten good people can be found: ‘For the sake of only ten, I won’t destroy the city.’”(Genesis 18: 23, 32, The Message).

Our words, actions, and countenance reflect what is in our hearts. We all “fly off the handle” at real or imagined slights from time to time. But when it becomes a habit, it reflects a lack of self-control and an inability to act mercifully:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).  It takes a strong person to exercise control and mercy when confronted with inflammatory actions or words. 

David throws himself on God’s mercy time and time again.  Like us, David made his share of mistakes—some of them whoppers. But he knew that if he fell on God’s mercy when he messed up or was in trouble, he would not be abandoned: “Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands” (Psalm 138: 6-8).

Paul reminds us of the compassion and mercy that God showed to us in sending Jesus to be our savior: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2: 13-14).  Our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus.  He paid the ultimate price to cancel our debts.  

We fall on our knees in prayer before God knowing that we do not deserve to have our debts cancelled.  Prayer is communication with God—whether the prayer is one that escapes our lips spontaneously, was written recently, or is one of the time-honored ancient prayers that resonate deeply within our souls.  The sincerity of the prayer and the state of our hearts when we pray is what matters to God, not whether the prayer was written by someone else.  

We pray an ancient prayer authored by Jesus when we pray the “Our Father” or Lord’s Prayer.   In teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus included a petition in that prayer asking God to forgive our sins as we forgive others: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11: 4). C.S. Lewis writes of this verse: “We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it [forgiveness] is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Messages).

God will forgive us to the extent that we forgive others.  That can be a frightening thought if we hold onto grudges and refuse to forgive others.  But God will show mercy and will forgive us as we forgive others.  That is about the biggest incentive one can imagine to show mercy to our neighbors. 

Mercy gives others the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t immediately shut down those who have made a mistake or with whom one disagrees.  Mercy is hospitable and welcoming, even though it may disrupt one’s schedule.  Mercy overlooks minor slights.  Mercy suppresses a sharp retort. Mercy gives up power in order to teach and guide others. Mercy tries to help others succeed.  Mercy gives up resources to help others.  Mercy offers kind and encouraging words to others. Mercy reflects an open and loving heart.  

Ask yourself as you move throughout your day if you are showing mercy. 

Prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Help me to show mercy to those I meet in my everyday life—at home, at school, at work, at church, at the grocery store and elsewhere.  Move me to pray for those I am tempted to criticize.  Move me to speak words of encouragement instead of judgment.  Move me to forgive instead of condemning another.  Move me to offer to help instead of remaining silent in the face of another’s needs.  Help me show mercy and to contribute to another’s healing.  And give me the trust and strength I need to fall into your merciful arms.  Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost are Genesis 18:(17-19) 20-33; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19); Luke 11:1-13.

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