This week I have decided to take on a challenge for myself: No iPad entertainment (in particular Netflix), no baseball watching (although I did give myself permission to check box scores ) and no movies until I’ve read through the New Testament in a week. It’s Tuesday and I’m thinking I will be starting against next week with this goal. We’ll see how things ends up. I’ve enjoyed being immersed in the Bible and I’ve walked away with a couple of cool lessons so far from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). In Matthew, I realized that the theme of “mercy” comes up quite a bit. In fact, it seems to be one of the big things Jesus rips into the Pharisees for not possessing (they were the religious leaders of the day). They were big into rules and regulations, into traditions and religion, but they weren’t into the practical application of faith. Let me give you an example.
One Saturday afternoon (the Jewish sabbath), Jesus and His disciples were walking through the field after a long day. Everyone was hungry and the Bible says that Jesus’ disciples started picking the heads of grain and eating them. Somewhere off in the distance, a Pharisee sees this and starts chastising Jesus for allowing his disciples to “work” on the sabbath, a practice that was forbidden by Jewish custom.
As the discussion between Jesus and these Pharisees increases, it moves into the synagogue where a man with a shriveled hand walks into the meeting. The Pharisees take this opportunity to ask, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” You see, they thought they had trapped Jesus. If He answers, “Yes” then they’ll get him for breaking the law. If he says, “no”, then they’ll get him for showing no mercy or kindness.
But Jesus lays a smack down on these guys and asks them, “If you had a sheep fall into a pit on the sabbath…would you pull it out of the pit?” The unspoken answer was, “of course!” So Jesus says, “If you can pull out a lamb that falls into a hole, how much more valuable is this man?” Then he healed the guy and the Pharisees left angry at Jesus’ uncanny ability to respond to their ignorant attempts to trap Him. (All of this happens in Matthew 12:1-14).
Jesus point was made clear in verse 7: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
It wasn’t that sacrifice was a bad thing -- in fact Jesus calls all of His followers to be people of sacrifice. It wasn’t that following the rules was a bad thing -- in fact Jesus tells us repeatedly that there are God-given rules and guidelines He wants His children to follow. But the demonstration of sacrifice or the strict adherence to the rules without the expression of love and mercy is fruitless!
I see this in my kids all the time. When I punish them for the sake of me being right or because I simply want to enforce the rules, I almost always get push back, lousy attitudes and more reasons for me to punish them. I’m “right” in the sense that I’m enforcing a particular rule, but I’m dead wrong in how I’m enforcing it. I’m no better than the Pharisees.
But when I punish my children with love and mercy, the ensuing result is almost always substantially better. It’s not that they suddenly start singing in joy over their consequence, but I usually receive much less attitude, and we frequently have engaging conversations over the why of the offense, and not just about the pain of the punishment. Mercy and love gives me access to their hearts.
Everyday you and I have chances to show mercy to people in our lives. Maybe it’s our spouse and our children, or maybe it’s a boss or coworker. Maybe it’s one of the people you serve in your job, or maybe it’s that paper delivery boy who never can seem to get your newspaper onto your driveway! There’s that barista at the coffee shop that can’t seem to remember you don’t like whip cream on your coffee, and don’t forget about that family member that always makes you late, or the guy who... there are plenty of people to whom you can show mercy to everyday!
Would you put mercy on your radar today? Will you take time to ask God to help you be a person of mercy and love? I have a friend who was recently lit-up by someone else, and treated like garbage. I don’t know the circumstances, I just saw the outcome on facebook when she posted this:
“Another time I wish I was one of those people that bashes someone on a social network, but instead I will hold my head high, pray for this individual, and watch them dig their hole deeper each time they do others wrong. I don't really call it karma, I see it as a pathetic angry person that will never change and revels in attempting to bring others down to his/her miserable level. Today I hold my head high and will not succumb to such venomous individuals.”
Show mercy today. It’s not just a good idea, it’s actually a command by God that we be merciful people. And mercy has a way of showing back up in our lives when we have been generous with it ourselves.
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!