Saturday, June 13, 2015

Extending Mercy

Woe unto you! for ye are as the tombs which appear not, and the men that walk over them know it not. And one of the lawyers answering saith unto him, Teacher, in saying this thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you lawyers also! for ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for ye build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So ye are witnesses and consent unto the works of your fathers: for they killed them, and ye build their tombs. (Luke 11:44-48 ASV)

Jesus spoke to the lawyers concerning their failings, as well as to the Pharisees. Remember that "woe" basically means "you should be ashamed of yourself". The "lawyers" were the scribes. They studied the law in depth and taught it to the people The problem for which Jesus reproved them was that they added man's tradition to God's law and made following the law more burdensome than God intended. 

What they taught the people was "grievous to be borne" but the lawyers (or scribes) didn't bother to follow it. They had an appearance of piety, but, in private, they did whatever they wanted. They were not only false teachers but also hypocrites, for they tried to hold people to a standard they could not attain. They didn't even attempt to rise to the standard they had set. 

My grandmother used to say, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." She had a variety of uses for that phrase, but she mostly used it to indicate that, if others should do a thing, so should I. Good for one, good for all. 

So it is with discipleship. Right is always right. If Jesus says we are to live a certain way, then we all are supposed to live that way. The life of a disciple is, in some ways, much easier than we have been led to believe. If we choose our actions based on the Golden Rule, we have a good start on acting like Jesus. Treat others as you want them to treat you. 

One of the problems we have is that we only want to treat certain people as we want them to treat us. If I want mercy but try to administer justice to those around me instead, I have failed to love my neighbor as myself. 

Recently, I spoke to a young man who was paying a ticket for a seat belt violation. "He could have got me bad," he told me of the policeman who had stopped him. The policeman had seen the other violations but had chosen to mention them instead of pile up fines for the young man. When he realized the seat belt ticket would not go on his record, he was thrilled. "I'd have had to go to the big house (prison) if it did." Then, he told me what I didn't expect, "You don't have to worry about me any more. I never want to go to that big house ever again. I've learned my lesson. I'm not taking any more chances." He turned to his friend, who was with him. "Even my friends are buckling their seat belts when they ride with me now." His friend confirmed it.

The young man had been given mercy when a more severe citation would have been justified. It was the kind of grace I'd like to receive. The policeman had acted with mercy, and that's how I want to be, too. Will the seat belt offender break the law again? Maybe, but maybe not. I'm not called to predict the future, but to respond in the present. 

We have the opportunity to extend either mercy or judgment to all those we encounter. Let's choose mercy, every time. After all, if the choice is between justice or mercy, mercy is what I want given to me.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)