We’re thinking again about the words love and mercy. That was the movie I saw, featuring the wonderful story of Brian Wilson, who wrote that song in 1988.
The parable of the Good Samaritan represents the essence of Jesus’ teaching on mercy. Some live with the attitude, What’s mine is mine, and you can’t have it. That’s the perspective of the priest and Levite who pass by the wounded man.
Others have the attitude of the robbers, What’s yours is mine if I can get it; they don’t care what happens to people so long as they get what they want. The attitude of Jesus is that of the Good Samaritan: What’s mine is yours if you need it.
Practical steps toward being merciful
The Good Samaritan lays out for us the steps to becoming a compassionate person. First, if you desire to show mercy, you must see the one who needs mercy. The priest and Levite saw and passed by on the other side. They saw but did not truly see.
The Samaritan saw him—not just another statistic of violence or one among many victims, but the person. You must pray that God will give you eyes to see the person who needs your help.
Second, if you want to show mercy, you must let your feelings play a significant role. The Good Samaritan “took pity on him” (Luke 10:33). He could have played it safe by rationalising that—as a member of another race, religion or culture—he was the wrong person to help. But he let the emotion of compassion influence his behaviour.
Third, a person of compassion doesn’t just think about doing something—he or she takes action. The Good Samaritan “went to him.” The merciful person moves outside of his or her own hurt to alleviate the hurt in another.
The Good Samaritan had experienced plenty of pain, rejection and discrimination against him, which he could have used as justification for doing nothing for anyone else. He spent his resources to make someone else’s life better. The Good Samaritan used his first-aid kit, his animal, his money for room and board, and his time in helping the half-dead man regain his wellbeing.
Sometimes we may justify our failure to show mercy by saying, “Well, I just can’t help everybody.” That’s true. But God has put people in your life whom you can help. Do you see them? Do you feel for them? Are you doing anything on their behalf? Those who give mercy will also receive it—from God.
Don’t mind getting involved
If I’m a merciful person, I’ll help those who are hurting. Proverbs 3:27 says: “Do not withhold good from those who need it, when it is in your power to act.” Remember, mercy is practical assistance. It’s love in action. When we only feel sorry for someone, and we have the power to help, we are not being like Christ.
We read in 1 John 3:17-18: “Now, suppose a person had enough to live on and notices another in need. How can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help? Dear children, we must show love through actions, not through empty words.” (God’s Word version). It says, you don’t have God’s love when, if you have opportunity, you don’t show it!
I like John Wesley’s motto: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” That’s biblical! Then Galatians 6:10 says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…” The Greek word for ‘mercy’ (eleos) means to show compassion, or to feel sympathy of heart.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.” (John Wesley)
This gift is characterised by the ability to suffer alongside the person in pain, in a sense to feel the pain with them and to want to help them bear it. Pastor John MacArthur says: “Mercy is not the silent, passive pity that never seems to help in a tangible way. It is genuine compassion with a pure, unselfish attitude that reaches out to help”.
When someone is hurting, a merciful person doesn’t mind getting involved! American comedian Flip Wilson was asked once what religion he professed and he said, “I’m a Jehovah’s bystander!” In a joking way he meant he didn’t get involved—many are like that today.
What a shame—a merciful person is not a Jehovah’s bystander; they see a person who is hurting and if they can help they do. Jesus is saying happy are those who get involved—even when it’s not convenient. Jesus said in Matthew 5:7: “Happy are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy”.