Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
The late American writer and author Erma Bombeck once told about an airline flight she was taking to Chicago. About 30 minutes before the plane was to take off, she settled down in her seat, wanting some time to be quiet and alone. She’d had a busy morning and didn’t particularly want to talk to anyone. She wanted a bit of peace.
But then she heard the voice of an elderly woman sitting next to her. I’ll bet it’s cold in Chicago, she said. It’s likely, Erma replied hoping the conversation would end there. I haven’t been to Chicago in nearly three years—the elderly woman persisted—My son lives there. That’s nice, Bombeck said, her eyes now glued to a book she hoped the woman would see she was reading. But the older woman went on: My husband’s body is on this plane. We’ve been married 53 years. I don’t drive, you know, and when he died a nun drove me home from the hospital. We aren’t even Catholic. The funeral director let me come to the airport with him.
Erma Bombeck later said:
I don’t think I ever detested myself more than I did at that moment. Another human being was screaming to be heard, and in desperation, had turned to a cold stranger who was more interested in a novel than in real life. She needed no advice, money, assistance, expertise—all she needed was someone to listen.
Mercy is important
This story helped me understand what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:7: “God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy”. You see, we forget about the importance of showing mercy to other people. We think it’s nothing important.
In the classic play My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle is courted by a man named Freddy. Freddy writes her love letters every day. Eliza’s response to all of his love letters was to cry out in frustration:
Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! Don’t talk to me of stars burning above! If you’re in love, show me! Don’t talk of love lasting through time! Make no undying vow. If you love me show me now!
The actions of mercy can be as simple as listening to a person who is hurting or wanting to be listened to. Mercy has many faces, but it always involves acting to help those in need, whatever their need and however limited our resources are.
Mercy is love in action
What is mercy? 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.
The most obvious way we can show mercy is through tangible acts, like the Good Samaritan. In other words, a merciful person does more than just feel mercy. He does something about it. Mercy is love in action. It is more than just an attitude. It is more than just feeling sorry for people. It is more than words. It’s doing something. Mercy does not exclude anyone.
Mercy is more than just feeling sorry for people.
You might remember in Jesus’ parable the man doing the helping was a Samaritan. The man receiving the help was a Jew. They were sworn enemies. There was mutual hatred between the two. Most Samaritans would have joined the priest and the Levite on the other side of the road. Many times we are just as bad. We want to pick and choose who we show mercy to. When someone hurts us or wrongs us, the last thing we want to do is forgive and be merciful! We want to punch their lights out! We would rather try and get back at those who betray us.
Mercy is inclusive
I read about a man who went to the doctor and the doctor told him he had rabies. The man immediately took out a piece of paper and pen and started writing feverishly. The doctor thought he was writing his will so he said, Wait a minute, no need to write your will. You’re not going to die. The man responded, Doc, I’m not writing my will. I’m making a list of people I want to bite. No, that’s not helpful because mercy includes the people you dislike.
When Jesus said, “Blessed [happy] are the merciful,” his Jewish audience would probably have been surprised. Both the Jews and the Romans were merciless people. They were egotistical, self-righteous, and condemning. The Romans glorified justice, courage, discipline, and power—not mercy. They considered mercy to be a sign of weakness.
Jesus Christ best models mercy.
Jesus Christ best models mercy. He reached out to others. Jesus was the most merciful person ever to live. He never did anything to harm others but reached out to heal the sick, restored the disabled, gave sight to the blind, opened deaf ears, and even brought the dead back to life. He kept company with prostitutes, tax collectors, the down-and-out, and they were welcomed into his circle of love and forgiveness.
Jesus wept with the sorrowing. He blessed the children gathered in his arms. Christ was merciful to everyone. Christ was mercy incarnate.