(Jude 22-23) Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
The Church, the Body of Christ, has throughout the ages frequently missed the basic tenet of being merciful. On the other hand the Church has been an instrument of mercy in society since its beginning. It’s been a mixed bag.
In Luke 6:35-36 Jesus says, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” God has shown us mercy, and he desires us to be merciful. I believe our ability to be merciful depends on our ability to receive mercy. Humility is the key.
To receive mercy, I must first recognize my need for mercy. When I know that I have sinned against God, there is then the recognition of the debt I owe to God. Secondly, I need to humble myself and become aware that there is nothing I can do to repay this debt. God is willing and has made the way to grant me mercy by forgiving my debt. I don’t have to work for it. It’s free. That is hard for me because in my pride I want to do something to earn forgiveness. However, by holding on to this idea of earning forgiveness, I will never even understand mercy.
Now you can see why it’s a mixed bag for the Church. Our pride often gets in the way. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says to the Pharisees, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ And again in 12:7, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” The Pharisees were caught up in a ritual of sacrifice that fed their pride allowing them to condemn others rather than show them mercy. They were trying to pay their debt to God on their own merit. They were blinded by pride and did not understand mercy. Therefore, they could not extend mercy.
Mercy proceeds from a humble, forgiving heart. This is God’s nature, and his heart toward us. By surrendering my will to God and allowing myself to be forgiven, I take the first step in understanding mercy. I feel the burden of gilt lifted and the exhilaration of being free. But, I must remember that I’m free and not fall prey to the lie that I must do something for this freedom. That lie feeds my pride. I must remain humble. Then in humble gratitude, I live under God’s mercy. A life that is continually bathed in mercy emanates mercy.