A young soldier had been sentenced to face the firing squad for desertion. His mother implored the general to grant him a pardon. “It was his second offence,” the general answered. “Justice demands that he be shot.” “I do not ask for justice,” the mother replied. “I ask for mercy. He does not deserve mercy,but it would not be mercy if he did deserve it and mercy is all I ask.” The general decided that he should exercise mercy and the young man was pardoned.
This story introduces a subject that has great relevance for us today. Our Lord commanded that those who would be his disciples should show mercy. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy”,He said. In their dealings with others,Christians should show mercy. It is the Christian answer to spite vindictiveness and the desire for revenge. Further,there is a promise. We deserve to be punished as a just reward for our wrongdoing,but Jesus has promised mercy to those who follow Him. The whole gospel is based on mercy. We accept the undeserved gifts which God gives us through Jesus.
Jesus also showed His enemies the need for mercy. On two occasions when Jesus was criticized,He replied,using a text from the Old Testament: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice”.
The first time He was replying to the Pharisees who had criticized Him for eating with and befriending tax-collectors and sinners. He said that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost and that He had every reason to accept those whom good people called sinners.
On the second occasion Jesus’ disciples had been criticized for breaking the Mosaic law by picking grains of wheat as they walked through a field on the Sabbath day. Jesus reminded the Pharisees of two examples in the Old Testament where good people had broken the law because of human need. He concluded by reminding His enemies that a merciful attitude and merciful actions are of much more value than formal worship.
This is relevant to us for we too are ready to criticize. We criticize those we know and work with. As armchair sportsmen we criticize players. We criticize aspiring and incumbent politicians and we criticize the much-maligned public servants.
Indeed it is said – sadly,even with a sense of pride – Australia is a nation of “knockers”. Perhaps if more of us heeded the words of Jesus,showed a little more mercy and were more conscious of the mercy showed to us by the Lord,life would be better fur us as a nation.
A poet has written,”Being all fashioned of the selfsame dust,let us be merciful as well as just”. Since each of us share in the weakness and sins of human nature,we can neither afford to neglect the task of showing mercy to others nor fail to accept the mercy which God offers us through Jesus Christ.
In mercy lies the basic essential of the Christian gospel. We know the story which Jesus told of two men going up to pray. One man was so broken and so much aware of his sin and failure that he did not even look up to heaven,but called on God in agony of soul. “Lord,be merciful to me a sinner”.
That man was accepted and forgiven by God. We too,when we ask God for mercy,will find that He is willing and ready to forgive us. This is mercy,rich and free.