October 1, 2006 ~ Bay Ridges Long Term Care


The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.


Portia to Shylock


William Shakespeare

The Merchant Of Venice


Four Hundred years ago, when William Shakespeare wrote the final words of this quotation, “And earthly power doth then show like God’s when mercy seasons justice,” he acknowledged the truth that every Christian should be fully aware of: That mercy is a gift undeserved and all the more valuable for that.


John 3:16 (ESV) - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.


But what is mercy? Webster defines mercy as:


That benevolence, mildness or tenderness of heart which disposes a person to overlook injuries, or to treat an offender better than he deserves; the disposition that tempers justice, and induces an injured person to forgive trespasses and injuries, and to forbear punishment, or inflict less than law or justice will warrant. In this sense, there is perhaps no word in our language precisely synonymous with mercy. That which comes nearest to it is grace. It implies benevolence, tenderness, mildness, pity or compassion, and clemency, but exercised only towards offenders. Mercy is a distinguishing attribute of the Supreme Being.


The key concept is that an individual receives a kindness that they do not deserve.


Mercy is something that many of us today, Christians included, don’t understand. We don’t understand how mercy is applied to us and we don’t understand how mercy should be applied to others.


The average North American Christian seems to accept the mercy of God but also seems to believe that they somehow deserve it. They may not say it in so many words but I know from my own experience that there is a tendency within ourselves to think that we somehow deserve the mercy that God gives us. This attitude, however, transforms mercy into a reward and Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church, addresses this by saying:


Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  (9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

I know that it has taken me many years to come to the realization that God has given me the gift of salvation which I on my own couldn’t possible deserve. I could do nothing to induce God to help me but be the pitiful helpless wretch that I am. He came to help me in spite of myself and saved me in spite of who I am.


Mercy is also mis-understood by many Christians in how it is to be applied to our fellow man. Someone does us harm and we seek restitution. (I use the word restitution in place of the word revenge because it sounds better, but it is really revenge that we want.) How often have we been on the 401 and accelerated when we noticed that someone beside us is trying to cut in front of us. Like Shylock, we seek our pound of flesh and, unlike Portia, forget that mercy helps us better to reflect our God.


We do not apply mercy to others by blindly refusing to recognize their failings but in spite of those failings. Again, we have the idea that those to whom we show mercy ought somehow be deserving of it; all the while forgetting that mercy so dispensed is not mercy at all but reward. True mercy is based on love, not merit, and like love is given freely:


1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV) - (4)  Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  (5)  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  (6)  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  (7)  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (8)  Love never ends.


There is no easy answer to the questions:


1/ How do I stop believing that I deserve God’s mercy?

2/ How do I stop requiring others to deserve my mercy?


I cannot stand here today and tell you how you are to show mercy other than to give the same answer that Paul gave to the Ephesian church:


Ephesians 5:2 (ESV) - And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


We are to be so filled with the love of Christ that nothing else matters but the wellbeing of our fellow man. In Jesus’ parable of the servants He shows us this reason for mercy:


Matthew 18:21-35 (ESV) - Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"  (22)  Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.  (23)  "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  (24)  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  (25)  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  (26)  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'  (27)  And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  (28)  But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.'  (29)  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'  (30)  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  (31)  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.  (32)  Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  (33)  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?'  (34)  And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  (35)  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."


The characters in this parable represent the function of mercy between God and man, and between man and man. Just as God extended His mercy toward mankind through Jesus Christ, who came to an undeserving people to be their atonement; so should we be merciful to the undeserving around us, including those who have harmed us. We have received mercy from God in His forgiving a debt that we could never repay. It is now incumbent upon us to extend mercy to those who owe us an infinitely smaller debt. Not because it is easy, not because they somehow deserve it but because it is right. It is right it shows that we are truly filled with the love of God and are willing to overlook justice for the sake of salvation.