Mercy defined the Savior’s life and mission. From lepers to sinners, he had compassion on those in need—even when they didn’t know their need. In his mercy, he offered health and life, and taught his disciples to do the same. Even now his gauntlet lays before us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mat. 5:7).
Mercy? The Romans didn’t show it. Their philosophy of “no quarter” led to cruel measures to keep order in occupied Palestine. The Jewish leaders didn’t know mercy. They were proud, egotistical, and self-righteous. They demanded religious perfection. People who opposed their tyranny or simply questioned their power were punished harshly.
Nowhere was this seen more clearly than their treatment of Jesus. As Jesus went about doing good, he demonstrated true compassion. He touched the untouchables and gave hope to the hopeless. He opened the ears of the deaf and gave sight to the blind. He received those discarded by polite society and forgave the sins of the most hated. He was the perfect example of mercy and compassion, but in return the Jews crucified him.
So, when Jesus told his disciples to be merciful, there was very little example of mercy in their environment to emulate. But they had one shining example in Jesus.
We can learn mercy as the first disciples by watching Jesus. At its root, mercy ministers to the needs of others. The poor, the hurting, the lonely, and the proud all need us. Mercy isn’t just having pity on a pathetic people. Mercy is the actions moved by that pity. Feeling sorry for someone and wishing them peace is useless (Jas. 2:15-16). Just as Jesus’ mercy was lived and not felt, our mercy must be living and active.
Mercy sees a hungry man and feeds him. Mercy sees a lonely woman and befriends her. Mercy sees a naked man and clothes him. Mercy sees one begging for love and loves her. Mercy meets the need, not just feels it.
The second part of Jesus’ promise doesn’t mean that as people see our compassion, they will return that compassion. It certainly didn’t work that way for Jesus. Rather, he means as we show mercy, we will receive mercy from God. He is our benefactor. Our merciful entrance into heaven will be affected by the mercy we show on earth.
Look around for compassion in our modern world. There are some pockets of mercy here and there, but for the most part, mercy is absent. It is banished by self-care, self-interest, and self-focus. Too many people are too busy to see the needs all around them. Others are wedded to violence and abuse. Others are shrouded by greed and blinded to their neighbors’ needs. Like the first century, the mercy we Christians show today may be the only true mercy our modern world ever witnesses.
Determine today to meet the needs of someone else.