Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’Matthew 25:34–36, NRSV
In the fifth Beatitude, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who have lived in a merciful way. Mercy is often motivated by the personal experience of having been treated with mercy: a child who is loved and welcomed into an adoptive family; a homeless family that is restored to housing, a job, and belonging; or an indebted person who is relieved of their debt. And certainly those who have been forgiven for a great wrong done to another. All of these people understand mercy.
William Barclay called mercy the ability of getting inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes. Mercy assumes a certain posture toward others that involves the absence of judgmentalism, the willingness to carry the pain of the other, and the good will of knowing that the other person is loved by God.
Pope Francis told a story about a young priest who told him that he was afraid he had been too forgiving to those who came to his confessional. The young priest told Francis that it was his practice to stand in front of the tabernacle and say to Jesus: “Lord forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But you’re the one who gave me the bad example.”
Those who have mourned about their own sin, understand better than most the deep indebtedness they have to God as well as their awareness that it is only through God’s mercy that their lives will be redeemed. That is why they can only show others mercy.
Jesus told a parable about a servant who owed his master a crushing, impossible amount of money. Knowing he was about to be thrown in jail, he pleaded for mercy from his master. Which he was granted. The debt was cancelled. But then, the forgiven servant went out and grabbed a fellow servant and demanded that he be repaid or else. Jesus ended the parable by talking about the rage the master had for the servant’s self-righteousness and refusal to forgive his fellow servant a small debt.
Prayer: God you are generous in your merciful forgiveness and long-suffering toward the fallen race of mankind. Through the life and death of Jesus, you showed us what it looks like when mercy takes shape in human life. We ask you to help us to be merciful to others. To not give in to the sinful impulses to judge or to be indifferent toward others who need our mercy. May we keenly remember what Jesus did for us. Amen.