Show Mercy to the undeserving?
"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy."Matthew 5:7
The above verse was said by Jesus during His sermon on the mount. It is located in a section of verses that have been called the "beatitudes." These beatitudes are simply attitudes that we need to possess as Christians. Being ready and willing to show mercy is one of those attitudes.
Throughout the Bible, the word mercy expresses different ideas around the same general concept. In the Hebrew Bible, Psalms 116:5 says, "Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful." Merciful in this verse is the word "Racham" and it means to love or have compassion. In Psalms 18:25, the word "Chacad" is used and it carries the idea of goodness and kindness. And then there's the word "Kapporeth" used in Exodus 25:22. It reads, "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel."
In this verse, God is speaking to the children of Israel and instructing them to place a gold plate or "Mercy Seat" on top of the Ark of the Covenant. It was at this location, on top of the Mercy Seat, that God would meet them. Meet them for what? God would meet them to show mercy and forgive them for the sins they committed. In this context, mercy suggests paying a ransom or giving a pardon for a wrong that has been done. In the New Testament, the words "Eleemon", as used in our verse, and "Oiktirmos" express God's idea of mercy which is having compassion and pity.
From these different uses of mercy, if I had to come up with a general definition, it would go something like this. Mercy means that we should have such a high level of compassion and pity on people, that even if they deserve to be punished, we, from the kindness and goodness of our hearts seek to do all we can to pay their ransom (through forgiveness) so they don't have to be punished.
Among Christians sometimes mercy is ignored. But why? It's simple. When we find ourselves in a conflict with someone, especially if we believe it's their fault, anger produces in us a hunger for vengeance and retribution so strong that mercy never comes to mind. This type of attitude for vengeance is dangerous and will lead to outcomes that are not in line with God's will. "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:20) Regardless of how upset we may be, we are to "Repay no one evil for evil" but are to "Have regard for good things in the sight of all men." (Romans 12:17) Paul says it another way in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all."
You might say, "Well, I'm not going to do anything to them. I'll just wait on God to." Even with this attitude, no mercy or grace exists. We should not be waiting on God to do anything to them. However, we should be praying that no harm comes their way. Even if God does decide to repay them for what they did to us, it should bring sadness and not gladness or relief. Solomon said, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." (Proverbs 24:17)
Trying to hope for the best for someone who has wronged us is one of the hardest things to do but it goes in line with loving your enemies. And what did Jesus say about our enemies? "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) Many people think they gain their blessings by only giving money to God but blessings also come from how we respond to those who hurt us. Peter said, "Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing." (1 Peter 3:9)
So it is within our spiritual interest to have the right attitude towards those who need mercy. We must search deep within our souls and dig out every ounce of mercy we can muster. We do this, not because they deserve it, but because they don't deserve it. This is the very mercy God showed you and me. He found us when we were lost. He loved us when we were unlovable. He favored us while we disfavored Him. Israel constantly turned her back on God, yet when she cried to Him "The LORD was moved to pity by their groaning." (Judges 2:18) They didn't deserve it and God didn't show pity because they deserved it. God showed them pity because it's in His character. When it comes to us, the mercy that God shows is not because of who we are or what we deserve. No, God's mercy is granted to us because of who He is, a merciful Lord.
We too must extend mercy the same way God does. Jesus said, "Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:36) We must be merciful to people, not because of who they are or what they deserve. We must be merciful because of our relationship with God. As Christians, we have been called to this life of hurt and sacrifice, the same way Jesus had to endure it. Jesus "Suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed." (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Let the stripes we receive from our hurt be evidence to God that we have shown mercy so that in the end, we can hear these timeless words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant..." (Matthew 25:21)