The Quality of Mercy

I wasn't feeling very merciful earlier today.  

I'd been fighting with my youngest son's school-issued computer all morning, trying to get him logged in to his classes from home, and not succeeding all that well.  

And my lack of merciful thoughts and feelings toward anyone and everyone who had a hand in making it all more complicated (at least to me) than it needed to be was definitely showing.  

But there was a moment when I saw my son's teacher on the Zoom page surrounded by all of the little faces of the kids in her class.  Every one of them was at home, including the teacher---trying to navigate this new world we are in and doing their best to figure it out. 

A voice spoke up in my head... "Everyone is doing the best they can... that's all they can do right now... the best they can..."  

As I was writing this, I remembered a bit of a monologue from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice: 

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown... 

The quality of mercy within our current culture does indeed seem to be strained.  From the lowest of the low to the highest halls of power, we see very little of the law of mercy in our society, and far too much of what Jurgen Moltmann calls "the law of recompense."  

The Old Testament describes the law of recompense like this:  "An eye for an eye."  In other words, if you suffer an injury at the hands of another, you are due compensation that would equal the loss you have incurred.  

But there's a great cost to this way of thinking... It lacks mercy.  And when it's practiced in the way that we see it practiced in our current culture, it spirals ever higher toward division and violence.  

Gandhi famously said, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." 

In other words, when mercy is left out of the equation, there is little hope for peaceful resolutions to conflict and disagreement.  And those with power are able to out-demand those without any, which ultimately can lead to oppression and injustice.  

Jurgen Moltmann put it like this: 
“Action on the basis of reciprocity leads to exclusive societies.  Merciful action leads to inclusive societies.  
Interestingly, Jesus addressed this very thing when he told his followers that the law of recompense didn't really work in God's economy.  He told his followers: 
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
Jesus was saying, the only way to level the playing field is to bring mercy into the equation... to act with vulnerability... to hold a mirror up to those demanding an eye for an eye, or (to use Shakespeare's words from Merchant), their "pound of flesh."

So when you are lacking in mercy toward those who you perceive have injured you, consider vulnerability as a way forward.  Put yourselves in their shoes. Empathize with them if you can.  Let your brokenness and frailty show, and drop your weapons.  

Because in the end, mercy triumphs over judgment... every time.  

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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