Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt.
I have a confession to make. It won’t impress you with my godliness but perhaps with my cultural saturation. Here it goes: when I hear the word mercy, I sometimes think of the Batman TV series from the late 1960s. Specifically, I can hear the voice of Madge Blake playing Batman’s Aunt Harriet exclaiming, “Mercy alive, Bruce!” or “Mercy me, Alfred!” Now, I expect that I heard the word “mercy” in other contexts when I was young, surely at church. But the unmistakable voice of Aunt Harriet still rings in my ears: “Mercy!”
In Psalm 123, the psalm writer prays, “Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt.” The Hebrew verb translated here as “have mercy” can mean “show favor, be gracious, pity.” If someone is asking God for a blessing, the verb might be translated as “show favor,” since the prayer asks for something extra. But if someone is crying out for help or deliverance, then “have mercy” is to be preferred. In the context of Psalm 123, the psalmist is asking for mercy because he has been the victim of contempt. He has suffered the “scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant” (123:4). He needs the Lord to deliver him and his fellows from the verbal abuse that harasses them.
“Have mercy” is one of the most basic, simple, foundational prayers we can utter. It has often been put to music, in the from of the simple chorus, Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, one of the most common and influential prayers is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This so-called “Jesus Prayer,” which has a variety of forms, is spoken millions of times each day by believers throughout the world. Based on the identity of Jesus as Lord, Christ, and Son of God, the Jesus Prayer seeks divine mercy, acknowledging that we don’t deserve it because we are sinful people. Mercy is not something we deserve but something God gives out of compassion and grace.
Why would we even dare to ask a holy, perfect, righteous God for mercy? Because God is “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4). He has more than enough to share with us. God’s mercy is not an add-on to his nature, but rather an expression of his gracious core. God’s mercy comes to us in many ways, but most of all through Jesus Christ, who bore our sin on the cross, delivering us from death, and leading us into the fullness of life. We all stand in need for mercy before a God who is ready to give us what we need.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How have you experienced God’s mercy in the past? In what ways do you need God’s mercy today? Are there others in your life who are in particular need of God’s mercy today?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how I praise you today that you are rich in mercy. You delight to give good things to your children and to rescue us when we are in trouble. We cannot need more mercy than you are able to give. And we cannot want your mercy more than you are wanting to give it. All praise be to you, God of mercy!
I need your mercy today in so many ways. In particular, I ask for your mercy in these circumstances: [Tell the Lord where you need his mercy today].
Also, I want to pray for others in my life who need your mercy. Hear my prayers for them now. [Mention others by name and condition.]
All praise be to you, O God, rich in mercy! Amen.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast. Send a note to Mark.
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful
In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.