Text: Matthew 5:7, James 2:15-20, Matthew 18:21-35
I recently deleted the Facebook app from my phone in an effort to scroll less and live more. I’ve begun to realize how often I scroll and just how terrible it makes me feel. A quick scan of my social media feed this morning inspired plenty of emotion in me, but not an ounce of understanding, compassion, or grace.
We live in a time of outrage, not of mercy.
Reading all these passages about mercy, then writing about it and thinking about it, only made me more confused. It’s like when you stare at a word so long that, suddenly, it no longer seems to be spelled correctly, or the true meaning of the word escapes you altogether.
So what exactly is mercy? And why do I see so little of it in my own heart for others?
After thinking it over and working through these scripture passages, this is the best I’ve got: mercy is standing before someone who deserves punishment, and then throwing them a party instead. You’d think it would be easy to accept a free party. But we’ve all been taught from an early age that “there’s no free lunch.” How can we live in a world of dollars and cents, blame and responsibility, and yet still accept mercy?
The story in Matthew 18 shows just how hard that is. We’re not told why this man had so much debt, but it’s probably safe to say he over-leveraged himself or gambled his way into oblivion. He did something that the rest of the world—from a place of safety or self-righteousness—might call foolish. And yet the king took pity on him, forgiving not only his debt, but also the character flaws that had landed him in debt in the first place.
But when the forgiven man walked out of the king’s presence, he made a beeline for the first person he could think of who owed him money. What if the king were to change his mind? Perhaps next time, the king won’t be so merciful. And so, loved by a king, the man became a tyrant.
Furthermore, his beliefs about the king became a self-fulfilling prophesy. He didn’t trust mercy, so he didn’t extend mercy, which landed him in prison—exactly where he’d expected to end up all along. When he reached prison, I imagine he felt justified: I knew he’d come after me all along.
This man’s behavior is familiar territory. At times, I find that I expect God to come back around, change His mind, and demand payment for all of my mistakes. Worst of all, I believe the difficult situations that come my way are His punishment in disguise, rather than believing the circumstances of my life are God’s best for me. But God has no punishment left for us (Romans 8:1).
God is not waiting for me to mess up. He is not standing, ready with a long list of all my other failures, to justify why the mercy I thought I received didn’t actually count. Jesus loves me—and you—fully, deeply, permanently. It is final and it is finished (John 3:16; 19:30).
Thinking through all this helps me to see myself and the people around me with new eyes. It even changes the way I look at my Facebook feed, believe it or not. There is no one we’ll encounter today, on our social media feeds or elsewhere, who is not in need of mercy. And you and I have the privilege of extending it to them, because Christ has secured irrevocable mercy for us.
Claire Gibson is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been featured both locally and nationally in publications including The Washington Post, and Entrepreneur Magazine. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves her husband, Patrick, and their dog, Winnie.