The prophet Micah poses a striking question: “What does the Lord require of you?” And as if to underscore that the question is of great import, he immediately provides the answer: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8, NIV). There are three commands expressed in this verse, but let me focus on the phrase—to love mercy.
What is mercy? The Oxford Dictionary defines mercy as showing “compassion or forgiveness . . . toward someone” who otherwise deserves to be punished or harmed. The Merriam Dictionary defines it as a “compassionate treatment of those in distress.” In both definitions, we see the word “compassion,” and this compassion is given to those who do not deserve it and to those who are in distress.
When I think of mercy as something that is undeserved, I remember the parable of the merciful king and the merciless servant. Jesus, in telling this parable, contrasts the king, who extended mercy to the servant who owed him a huge amount of money and therefore deserved punishment, with the same servant, who after receiving mercy from the king withheld it from his fellow servant who owed him a small amount of money. When the servant pleaded, “Be patient with me, . . . and I will pay back everything” (Matt. 18:26, NIV), without a second thought, the king gave him more than what he asked. The king canceled his huge debt—all of it! Through this parable, God wants us to have a clear picture of what mercy is like. Obviously, the servant deserved punishment but, instead, the king showed him compassion and forgave him his debt. On the contrary, the wicked servant, who having received compassion and forgiveness, did not extend mercy to his fellow servant.
While we may be struck by the outrageous ingratitude of the wicked servant, how often we may have enacted his behavior. Jesus tells the parable as a response to the question posed by Peter—“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21, NIV). Through this parable, Jesus emphasizes that we should forgive our fellow human beings unconditionally—without limit in terms of the number of times and without considering the gravity of the offense. Ellen White expounds what unconditional forgiveness is: “If your brethren err, you are to forgive them. When they come to you with confession, you should not say, ‘I do not think they are humble enough. I do not think they feel their confession. What right have you to judge them, as if you could read the heart?’” (COL 249.2).
Another aspect of showing mercy is showing compassion to those who are in distress. So, who are those in distress? While at Jabbok, Jacob, confronted with the enormity of his sins, was in distress. The importunate widow, pressing her case before an unjust judge, was in distress. The lepers, who cried to Jesus for healing, were in distress. The widow, whose sons were to be taken for an unpaid debt of her deceased husband, was in distress. Those who are hungry and thirsty and naked are in distress. Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats to explain how one can show mercy to those who are in distress. Addressing the righteous ones, he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:35, 36, NIV). And when the righteous asked, “When did we do it, Lord?”, the Lord replied, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).
Why should showing mercy be our natural response as we go about the course of our daily lives? Firstly, because, like the wicked servant, we have been recipients of God’s immeasurable mercy. Secondly, because, like the importunate widow, we have been recipients of mercy from others, even those who do not fear God. Ellen White counsels us that if we do not show mercy towards others, we are not “partaker[s] of God’s pardoning grace. . . . The tenderness and mercy that Christ has revealed in His own precious life will be seen in those who become sharers of His grace” (COL 251.1). And what happens to those who refuse to love mercy? Ellen White continues by quoting Romans 8:9: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” And “he is alienated from God, fitted only for eternal separation from Him” (COL 251.1).
Shall we not then ask ourselves—Can we show compassion the way God wants us to show compassion? Can we forgive the way God wants us to forgive? Can we love mercy and make it a way of life? May our answer be—“As you require, I will, O Lord.”
Arceli H. Rosario is a professor and chair of the Education department at AIIAS (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies) in the Philippines, as well as director of the MAT, EdS, and PhD in Education programs.
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