What does it mean to be merciful? I have often heard pastors tell their congregations that Grace is receiving from God what we do not deserve, while Mercy is not receiving from God what we do deserve. It’s a great way to explain simply a profound gift from God but is it really the full revelation?
People like to cry for mercy when they find themselves in peril. Taunted by the jeering sneers of others they look out upon the hungry faces of wolves that seem to want to devour them and they cry out for mercy to spare their life. Are the people wrong to sneer? We cry out for mercy as though it has not been given. But hasn’t it? Didn’t Christ come and die for us out of the mercy of the Father’s heart? Haven’t we already been living in the mercy of God since that day on the cross? Why then must we cry out for mercy if it has already been given? We’re so used to hearing the victim, the accused cry out for mercy, but perhaps it’s the accusing brethren who need mercy more. Isn’t that what Christ modeled for us? Did he receive mercy from those who accused him? No. His mercy had already been given from above, though he didn’t need it because he was born blameless, the Father still applied it because in taking on the sins of the world, he would need mercy to bare the cross – not because he became the victim but because upon it fell the full weight of judgements of every accuser against the iniquities of men. Wasn’t it instead Jesus himself, the accused and not the accuser, who applied mercy to those who taunted him? Are we too quick to judge mercy as relief upon those being accused instead of seeing it as the power of the accused to release forgiveness upon the accuser?
Mercy by its definition is treating people with kindness and forgiveness when they absolutely deserve anything but. The dictionary says it is compassion shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power. Is it any surprise that God is known for his mercy and compassion. How then are we at giving mercy to those who offend us?
If we are to have a revelation of God and his disposition as a loving and merciful Father, we need to first experience mercy in our life. In fact, I bet you are experiencing mercy more than you realize.
I like to look to Jesus for what mercy might look like in action. Have you ever had a friend tell you that what you have your heart set on is just not going to work out for you and you should start thinking another way? I know some people who kindly tell this person where to go with that, but Jesus had a different response when Peter did it to him. Instead of becoming angered at his friend’s lack of sympathy and encouragement, he turned to Peter and rebuked him in love. Sometimes we think the more merciful thing to do is not to say anything, but Jesus loved his friend and wanted to see him triumph over his error and so he was a friend in return and offered him insight on what was really at work in him. But the mercy didn’t stop with rebuke, Jesus continued on in his mercifulness by telling his friend to take heart and be encouraged because he had prayed for him. How often do we engage in mercy by praying for those who accuse us? Mercy triumphs over judgment because mercy is love; love triumphs over everything.
Judgement is a natural response in men and women who are unloving. If you want to know if you’ve reached the perfection of love, take a look at how often you are judging others, especially when they are judging you.
The Scriptures make a point of reminding us God does not take pleasure in judgement, “Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?” (Ezekiel 18:21-28).
St. Faustina is known among the Catholic Church for her revelation of the Divine Mercy of Jesus. In her memoir she writes, “The Lord said to me, ‘The loss of each soul plunges Me into mortal sadness. You always console Me when you pray for sinners. The prayer most pleasing to Me is prayer for the conversion of sinners. Know, My daughter, that this prayer is always heard and answered” (No. 1397 Diary Divine Mercy in My Soul by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalksa). Perhaps this is why Jesus’ response to Peter was as it were in his darkest hour when he was being sifted by the devil with the temptation to reject Christ, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Can we respond in the fullness of Christ’s mercy and do the same to those who would judge us, praying instead not for their own judgement to come but rather for their conversion back to the fullness of faith?
“All grace flows from mercy, and the last hour abounds with mercy for us. Let no one doubt concerning the goodness of God; even if a person’s sins were as dark as night, God’s mercy is stronger than our misery. One thing alone is necessary; that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest” (No. 1507).
Jesus made a point of telling the world that he had not come to judge it. His mission was a mission of mercy, an extension of the Father’s heart for mankind. Even unto death, Jesus’ heart was positioned toward mercy, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
If you haven’t figured out yet how to love your enemies (those who oppose you, those who forbear against you, those who sneer and jeer and cast judgment upon you) and pray for them, then you haven’t known real mercy.
The key to mercy is simple. It’s entirely based on trust. Those who profess that God is Holy and Just must also believe in His Mercy and trust in His Goodness or they are no better than the devils. “Even the devils believe in My Justice, but do not glorify My Goodness. My Heart rejoices in this title of Mercy” (No. 300).
So the next time you find yourself ready to cry out for Mercy over Judgement, wether you’re the accuser or the accused, remember the Goodness of God and do as Jesus prayed for Peter to do, keep your faith and trust Him, repent and turn back to His compassion, mercy and infinite love, and remember to pray the same for those who would render judgement against you.
“Tell souls that from the fount of mercy, souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls” (No. 1602).