Best of Daily Reflections: Gnats, Camels, and the Mercy of God
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Mercy is equal parts forgiveness and compassion. Mercy is God’s chief attribute. Do a quick Google search of “the Lord is merciful,” and one reference after another will appear. Mercy is also God’s chief directive to us. He tells the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). Try to imagine what life would be like without mercy!
But mercy is fragile and is often a victim of over-zealous trivialities. Jesus once accused religious leaders of being so consumed by the little details of appearing to be religious that they missed the greater requirement of showing mercy. He painted a vivid picture when he said, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:24).
Mercy can also be a victim of untempered justice when the fury of the wounded victim unleashes a mean and heartless punishment that is out of proportion to the offense.
But thankfully mercy is also indestructible. When the nations crumble and history’s last lights flicker, mercy will endure. Remember what Paul wrote about one of mercy’s main facets: love never ends.
I once heard of a young seminarian who had a vision to start a spiritual retreat center in Europe. After graduation from seminary, his head swirling with visions of all that was about to come, he packed his bags and walked down the street to catch a train to the airport. He was one step from the doors of the train station when he looked down and saw an emaciated man lying in the gutter. And all he had to do to get to his dream was step over the man. But somehow he couldn’t do it. Instead he walked down the street, bought a portable stove, a bag of rice, and a bottle of water. And as the rice boiled, behold, a line formed. And with that a ministry to the homeless of Seoul, South Korea, was born.
Mercy cannot step over broken people and move on down the road. Mercy cannot allow guilt to go on condemning. And from the way Jesus puts it, there’s a mathematical quality to mercy, so that when it is exercised, it expands exponentially. Those who practice mercy discover they are given even more to practice, and then more, and then more until the world is full of the glory of God.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When do you find it hardest to act mercifully toward others? When do you most need for people to have mercy on you? Why must justice and mercy always be married to each other? What does justice look like when it is carried out with mercy?
PRAYER: Merciful God, I am grateful that your mercy reaches out to me in my distress and forgives me in my sinfulness. This is a mystery to me. I have received such abundant kindness from you, yet I can be so stingy in passing it along to others. Forgive me, and set off an alarm bell in my mind when there is an opportunity to show mercy to another. Amen.
Dave Peterson is an ordained pastor who is the Director of Community Outreach for The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation and Scholarly Advisor for the H. E. Butt Family Foundation. He is the author of Receiving and Giving, Unleashing the Bless Challenge in Your Life. Dave and his wife, Terri, have four adult children and four grandchildren.
All Things New
Every now and then, you notice it. You recognize the world in which we live is not quite living up to its potential. In the midst of the every day, tiny reminders creep through to reorient us to the truth that this world is not our home. Tainted by the Fall, all of creation yearns for the restoration of all things. We navigate the heartbreaks and the disappointments amid celebration and triumph. We wonder how to tackle injustice while we journal lists of gratitude and thanksgiving. Through it all, God is making all things new, just as he promised. He invites us to join him in the process. What might you contribute through your work and life while you journey through this one life you’ve been given? As a follower of Christ, what role might you be invited to play as God makes all things new? What difference does your vocation make in the work of restoration and redemption? Join the conversation in the series, All Things New.