March 7,2015 Reflection on Love Worth Finding Devotional on mercy:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Matthew 5:7
Those who have received mercy are those who show mercy. And those who show mercy will be those who continue to receive mercy. Showing others mercy isn’t just sentiment or softness. It is sympathy that serves. Jesus doesn’t merely save us from something, He saves us for something. He wants to express His life through us as we serve others.” In other words, there is an expectation that mercy will lead to transformation, demonstrating that repentance and gratitude have occurred.
My thoughts after reading this:
The parable of the burdened debtor who was forgiven his debt by the king, and then fails to forgive the lesser debt owed to him by another says something to me here. When the king observes the actions of the unmerciful debtor who has been shown mercy by the king, the king takes action to implement consequences against the unmerciful servant, to punish his lack of mercy…the blessing of having received mercy only remained in force as long as the one who was shown mercy “pays it forward” and lives into the expectation that he will live according to the king’s ethical standard in regard to forgiving the debts of others…..the forgiven debtor is expected to make a similar compassionate change in his own heart. He was “saved FROM something, but also FOR something.” When he failed to live into that expectation for which he was saved, there was no further obligation to extend mercy to him. And mercy is not an “obligation” anyway. It, too, is a gift. It made me think of probation violators. They are given “second chances” to make right their past transgressions by showing that they can go forward in righteousness, but if they transgress again instead of living into the standard of the one (the court) who has shown mercy, then the original sentence is revisited and new charges/sentences can result. When granted probation, they are not being required to “make up” for the original transgression, the court’s mercy in granting probation instead of enforcing a more punitive and restrictive sentence offers freedom from the past debt, but they have the obligation and the opportunity to show that they will live in such a way that the mercy shown will have had a transforming impact. If their actions demonstrate that the mercy has taught them nothing, then the next time around, mercy is less likely to be granted due to the failure to live into the expectation of the one who granted mercy the first time. Understand, however, that mercy is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness can be given and one may still have to do the sentence (suffer the consequences). Mercy means the sentence is negated(at least to some degree or another)…..and one receives another chance to demonstrate changed behavior. But when one demonstrates an unrepentant spirit and unwillingness to live into the purpose for which they are granted mercy…..mercy may no longer be offered.
Our ability to continue to live with the expectation that mercy will be extended to us is conditional upon us moving forward toward demonstrating that we can similarly grant mercy to others and live FOR that toward which we are directed and expected to live. If we demonstrate that we have not learned the lesson of mercy through our own changed behavior it is unlikely we will continue to receive it. Others’ thoughts on the distinction between mercy and forgiveness? And how mercy operates differently than grace in circumstances where punishment is warranted? Particularly in the human realm, as we all know that “God’s mercies are fresh every morning.”
“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,[b] his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
Note in the context that the prophet Jeremiah’s posture is one of repentance and grief over his wrongdoing. Then he remembers God’s love and knowledge that, in the face of sincere repentance, God is merciful over and over.
In the absence of repentance, God may still give mercy, but Matt. 5:7 suggests he likely won’t. He will still grant forgiveness. We, too, must give forgiveness, but we are not obligated to grant mercy to unrepentant repeat offenders. And grace has nothing to do with this scenario.
This has been rolling around in my head for a few days after one was said to have failed to show “grace” to someone who had violated standards. Grace was the wrong operative word, it seems to me. Grace is receiving blessings which one has not “earned” but which are freely and generously given anyway, with no expectation of “earning” the gift/blessing. When one has violated standards and sought “forgiveness”, even “mercy”, the expectation is that granting such forgiveness and mercy will have had a positive impact on the offender. When the violations continue and repentance is not sincere, there need not be reconciliation even when forgiveness is given. And mercy is never an obligation in such circumstances. It is always a gift.