Mercy

The Prodigal Son, Rembrandt, 1669

Scripture: While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion (Luke 15:20).

Reflection:

The Pharisees and scribes grumble and murmer about the company Jesus keeps with sinners and tax collectors (Lk. 15:1-2). They had disqualified and excluded those Jesus welcomed and ate with, accusing them of being “sinners.” Jesus responds to their grumblings with parables of a shepherd and the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7), a woman and the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and a father with the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32). Each parable reveals the love of God that moves with yearning, pity, mercy, and compassion for the “lost.”

When I was in my late 20’s, I engaged in a heated argument with Jerry, a newspaper owner twenty years my elder.  I knew Jerry attended church, but “I” had judged him to be a nominal Christian because “I” suspicioned his life-style. He came into my store one afternoon to sell me some advertising space in his newspaper and “I” saw an opportunity to set him straight with scripture and right doctrine. I knew I had the upper hand, soon after the full-blown debate began, because I knew more scripture than he did. I kept zinging and pounding him with scripture after scripture. Eventually, he became silent. I thought to myself, I won! He stopped talking, bowed his head and turned to walk away in silence. Then, he paused, turned back to me with tears in his eyes and a defeated spirit, and said to me, “All that you said may be right. But I can’t receive it because I see no love in your heart.” We never spoke again even though we worked in the same shopping mall.

I thought I could awaken a call to holy living in Jerry. Instead I recognized that I treated Jerry, a child of God, as a foe instead of a friend, a bother instead of a brother, a sinner instead of a saint in the becoming.  I saw the hollowness of my own sin of self-righteousness and my inclination to be right instead of in relationship. I thought I was going to help reconcile Jerry to God on that day with my iron-clad, biblically-based scriptural arguments. Instead, I used scripture to wound, lay guilt and shame on him, perhaps pushing him further away from God and from the church. I realized that day that it was not Jerry who had wandered away from God’s love and mercy, but me.

Reflection:

The Pharisees and scribes grumble about the company Jesus keeps with sinners and tax collectors (Lk. 15:1-2). They had disqualified and excluded those Jesus welcomed and ate with, accusing them of being “sinners.” Jesus responds to their grumblings with parables of a shepherd and the lost sheep (Lk. 15:3-7), a woman and the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and a father with the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32). Each parable reveals the love of God that moves with yearning, pity, mercy, and compassion for the “lost.”

When I was in my late 20’s, I engaged in a heated argument with Jerry, a newspaper owner twenty years my elder.  I knew Jerry attended church, but “I” had judged him to be a nominal Christian because “I” suspicioned his life-style. He came into my store one afternoon to sell me some advertising space in his newspaper and “I” saw an opportunity to set him straight with scripture and doctrine. I knew I had the upper hand, soon after the full-blown debate began, because I knew more scripture than he did. I kept zinging and pounding him with scripture after scripture. Eventually, he became silent. I thought to myself, I won! He stopped talking, bowed his head and turned to walk away in silence. Then, he paused, turned back to me with tears in his eyes and a defeated spirit, and said to me, “All that you said may be right. But I can’t receive it because I see no love in your heart.” We never spoke again even though we worked in the same shopping mall.

I thought I could awaken a call to holy living in Jerry with scripture. Instead I realized that I treated Jerry, a child of God, as a foe instead of a friend, a bother instead of a brother, a sinner instead of a saint in the becoming.  I saw my own sin of self-righteousness and my inclination to be right instead of in relationship. I thought I was going to help reconcile Jerry to God on that day. Instead, I used scripture to wound, lay guilt, and shame on him, perhaps pushing him further away from God. I realized that day that it was not Jerry who had wandered away from the knowledge and experience of God’s love and mercy, but me.

Prayer:

God of mercy, help us to enrich this day with deeds of compassion and mercy. Help us to avoid all anger and dissension and let us find joy in your peace and love. Amen.

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