Today I want to talk to you about one of those little words that is so easy to pronounce, and so very hard to put into practice. It is the word mercy. It means to treat kindly, or forgive, someone who doesn’t deserve it. We all want mercy when we’re the one at fault, yet we find it very difficult to show mercy to someone who has harmed us.
You may have heard the story of Corrie Ten Boom. She was a Dutch woman who was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II for hiding Jews. Her sister died there. Corrie was released one week before all the other women in her barracks were sent to the gas chambers.
After the war she busied herself in rehabilitation work. She also went to churches telling her story and preaching forgiveness and reconciliation. She writes of a time when she found it almost impossible to show mercy.
“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had met since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. …I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity…” (Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, World Wide Pictures, 1971, p. 233)
There aren’t too many of us who have had to experience the kind of trauma that Corrie Ten Boom did. Yet, whether the hurt done to us is great or small, God still tells us to show mercy to those who have wronged us. We are to forgive rather than take vengeance.
Shakespeare put it this way:
“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above the sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice….” (The Merchant of Venice)
As Shakespeare says, when we show mercy we display one of the attributes of God. The Apostle Paul writes this in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 1 through 5, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (NIV)
Unfortunately, when we are called to show to others the same mercy God has given us, we often find that we cannot do it. In our own strength it is impossible. However, we do not have to rely on our own strength. Corrie Ten Boom continues her story,
“…I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.
“As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
Each week we gather to remember and celebrate the mercy God showed us. As we eat the bread which represents Christ’s body, and as we drink the cup which represents His blood which takes away our sins, let’s give thanks for His mercy. Let us also ask for the ability to show the same kind of mercy to those who have sinned against us.