|Valentine's Day tea :)|
Anyway, today we were studying "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." I have been using some study helps as we're going along, including the Keyword Study Bible, and Vine's Concise Dictionary. As I looked up the meaning of the word "merciful," I was a little surprised. I knew that it had to do with being kind to people. But the essence of the word seems to be to help those who are in trouble due to their own sin!
I was surprised, because I hadn't thought of this as a particularly "Christian" way to act. I mean, how is someone going to learn anything if you keep bailing them out when they get into trouble? Aren't we supposed to teach them a lesson? Let them learn from their mistakes? What about "natural consequences?"
As I think about it, this is exactly Jesus' way. When the scribes and Pharisees brought him an adulterous woman (John 8), announcing that according to Moses' law she should be stoned, Jesus turned the tables and asked that someone who was without sin be the first to throw a stone. Knowing that they had all sinned, the men all went away. Jesus then told her that he didn't condemn her, and told her to "go, and sin no more " (John 8:11). He showed mercy. In fact, the only people he wasn't merciful to were those who were unmerciful to others. Hmmm.
Rory noticed that this concept was well-explained in the parable of the unmerciful servant, told in Matthew 18:22-35. The parable was told in response to a question about how many times you should forgive someone who sins against you, so I have usually heard it as an illustration of forgiveness, but Rory is absolutely right. It is about being merciful. The king forgives his servant a great debt, and then the servant who was forgiven turns around and has another servant put in prison for owing him a small amount. When the king hears of this, he has the first servant put in prison until he pays him back.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Is it possible that we are "playing God" by letting people "get what they deserve," rather than playing Jesus, as we should be? And if so, how will we be judged, but by the judgement we use for others? For are there any of us without sin? And if we look the other way and let them suffer, will we be left to suffer in turn? And how much of our misery results from the misery we allow others?
It is very popular now for Christians to stand up for their rights, and their principles. To be called "Christian," you have to be against abortion, same-sex marriage, and apparently gun laws. But is that the essence of Christianity? To follow all the rules, and to punish those who don't? The Pharisees were great at that, yet they were against our Savior. The more I sit at the feet of Jesus, the less I see a book of laws, and the more I see a book of love. The old saw of "What would Jesus do?" turns a little on it's head - not whether I'm doing everything right, but whether I'm loving everyone right. Because what is the point of looking right and acting right and talking right and supporting all the right causes, if it is all done as a point of law, rather than a point of love?
So I don't think that we need "tough love." I think we need a love that's tough. Strong enough to last through all of the sin, and all of the hurt, and all of the spit in your face hatred that can come our way. To love in the face of ridicule and shame and pain and injury and indescribable sadness and loneliness. That is what Jesus would do.