Monday, May 26, 2008

The Quality of Mercy

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
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 sceptre 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 sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice."

The first line of this passage from Shakespeare's play The Merchant Of Venice came to me in the middle of the night in response to Benny Phillips' sermon yesterday morning on the parable of the unmerciful servant. He recounted the story of the man who owed millions and millions of dollars -- more than he could ever hope to repay -- and plead for mercy from the king, who granted it. But then this man turned around the beat up a guy who owed him a few months wages. I guess I'll just let you read the story for yourselves...

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:21-35

Benny reminded us that if we have received a transfusion of God's grace, then when we are wounded by others, we should "bleed mercy." In other words, mercy for our sins has not been effectively received into our own lives if we can't show it to others when they sin against us. Who are we to hold a grudge? As Benny mentioned, in Corrie TenBoom’s book Tramp for the Lord (a sequel to her more famous book The Hiding Place), she recalls the time after World War II when she met up with one of her former concentration camp guards at the end of a talk she had given on forgiveness. I have the book, so I thought you might like to read some of the story.

"Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!" And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course -- how could be remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. "You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard there." No, he did not remember me. "But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,"--again the hand came out--"will you forgive me?"

And I stood there--I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven--and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place--could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there--hand held out--but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what their physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was a simple and horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion--I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling." And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"

For a long moment, we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely, as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, "... because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."


"For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.
Mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:13


“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."
Jesus in Matthew 5:7


"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable,
gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits,
impartial and sincere." James 3:17


"Go and learn what this means,
‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus in Matthew 9:13


"He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

"Good for good is only fair;
Bad for bad soon brings despair;
Bad for good is vile and base;
Good for bad shows forth God’s grace."

(Welsh folk saying)


"Being all fashioned of the self-same dust,
Let us be merciful as well as just."
(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "Tales of a Wayside Inn")

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