Key Takeaway: Mercy is the very essence of love. Though we as human beings have the power to harm others, we also have the power and the choice to be compassionate towards them – simply by not ignoring them and hearing them out. That is mercy, and by opening yourself up truly, you love.
To love is to show mercy.
The word mercy is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”. It originates from Middle English and comes from the Old French merci, “pity” or “thanks” (hence the French term for thank you, merci), which itself is from the Latin merces and merced-, “reward”. In Christian Latin, this is taken one level deeper to mean “pity”, “favor”, or “heavenly reward”.
God is the first one to display mercy because out of his love for humankind despite its constant sinning, he sent his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to the world to die for our sins that the door to eternal life may be opened for us. God, being God, can do anything to us that he wants, and as we have all supposedly repeatedly offended him and his goodness and are “deprived of the glory of God” (Rm. 3:23, NABRE), and “the wages of sin is death” (Rm. 6:23, NABRE), we deserve to die and be condemned. However, because God loves us so much, he is inviting us to go back to him and accept his gift of eternal life and salvation, by believing in and following his Son.
God has the power to punish us, yet chooses not to do so out of his compassion for us. To be merciful, therefore, is to love – and we are all called to imitate this.
Consider the people around you, especially if you have subordinates at home or at work or even outside – such as younger siblings, children, household help, junior staff, or people with lower socioeconomic statuses than you. Being supposedly “higher” than them, you have the power to do with them however you please. You could bully them into catering your every whim, or you could take advantage of them to enrich yourself at their expense.
Or you could love and serve them the same way Jesus loves and serves us, his people. You could show mercy. And I think this is a much more beautiful way of dealing with others.
Mercy, you see, is not limited to when you have either offended others or been offended by others. Mercy is a part of everyday living, and in almost any situation we enter, there is an opportunity for us to display mercy by loving.
Consider the very first word of Oxford’s definition of mercy: compassion. The next few words make up the phrase “compassion or forgiveness” – meaning it can be one or the other. Let’s drop “forgiveness” and focus on “compassion” Then, take the entire definition once more, without “forgiveness”: “compassion shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”.
In theory, we can harm even those we consider our superiors – just that circumstances normally render us unable to do so. Jesus himself, who is God turned man, was harmed by his people! Heads of state the world over have been assassinated. So if we can harm anyone, then we can show compassion to anyone as well. Thus, we can show mercy to anyone – and that is the essence of loving.
How do you show mercy when you love? Simple: By opening yourself up to others. By focusing less on yourself, and being others-oriented rather than self-oriented, listening to others, truly devoting yourself to them, you are already being loving. By showing that you care and that you are there for them, you are already displaying compassion for the other, and thus you are being merciful. You could choose to ignore and be apathetic, and that is arguably the greatest harm. But by not ignoring, and by hearing them, you then radiate waves of mercy, waves that have the power to change the world better than even the most treacherous waves in the ocean.
This weekend, as we wind down from what we’re doing throughout the week – perhaps until after New Year already – or perhaps wind up for the last-minute Christmas rush, let us pause and reflect on whether or not we are being loving and merciful. Jesus invites us to be merciful as our Father is merciful, because we will then be shown mercy at the end when he comes again.
Have a purposeful weekend!