Mercy is Polarizing
Do you want the mercy of God all to yourself? Yes? You are selfish. Stop pouting. Keep reading and consider this:
Mercy is polarizing.
*Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The thought of mercy is sweet, but even more so is mercy itself. It is what all people hope for, but unfortunately, not what all people deserve. For while all people wish to receive it, only a few are willing to give it.
How can a person ask for themselves what they refuse to give to another? If they expect to receive any mercy in heaven, they should give mercy on earth. Do we all desire to receive mercy? Let us make mercy our benefactor now, and it will free us in the world to come. Yes, there is mercy in heaven, but the road to it is paved by our merciful acts on earth...
There is, therefore, an earthly as well as heavenly mercy, that is to say, a human and a divine mercy. Human mercy has compassion on the miseries of the poor. Divine mercy grants forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy bestows here on earth, divine mercy will return to us in our homeland. In this life God feels cold and hunger in all who are stricken with poverty; for, remember, he once said: What you have done to the least of my brothers you have done to me. Yes, God who sees fit to give his mercy in heaven wishes it to be a reality here on earth.
What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when he begs, we refuse to give. Remember, it was Christ who said: I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. When the poor are starving, Christ hungers too. Do not neglect to improve the suffering of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my friends; it is he who chooses to hunger and thirst in our poverty stricken neighbors. And what he will return in heaven tomorrow is what he receives here on earth today.
What do you wish for, what do you pray for when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else? Show mercy, then, while you are on earth, and mercy will be shown to you in heaven. A poor person asks you for something; you ask God for something. He begs for a scrap of food; you beg for eternal life. Give to the beggar so that you may merit to receive from Christ. For he himself says: Ask and it will be given to you. It baffles me that you have the arrogance to ask for what you do not want to give. Give when you come to church. Give to the poor. Give them whatever your resources will allow.
I wish I could claim to have authored the argument above, but I didn’t - that’s why I snuck in that asterisk. I’m down with it though. I believe in the words of this sermon. I was pleasantly shocked when they snuck up on me in a devotional reading on Sunday. Not because it was groundbreaking and rocked my ministerial world. There is nothing new under the sun after all. However, I did fist pump like a guido on the Jersey Shore when I read the attributed date of authorship: 500 A.D.! (by Caesaria of Arles)
Too often American Christians get a bad wrap for being arrogant and selfish (although generally speaking that is fair), yet 1500 years ago we see the church being reprimanded for neglecting mercy to the poor. Wipe the smirk of your face and avoid slipping into prideful contentiousness. The words preached to that church 1500 years ago apply to us today which makes Jesus' statement in his first sermon so polarizing, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. The poor don’t deserve to be fed, sheltered, or intentionally sought out for partnership and care. I do though! Chase me down God or I’ll grab your heel like Jacob, wrestle with you, and force you to offer me the mercy of heaven!
We must admit our arrogance and selfish tendencies if we are to submit to the mandate in Micah 6:8 to love mercy. The questions Caesaria of Arles asked his church back then are ones we must honestly ask ourselves and respond to with the translucence of a jelly fish even if it stings to do so. What kind of people are we? What do you wish for, what do you pray for when you come to church? Is it mercy? How can it be anything else?
Mercy is not pity. Mercy is not tossing a quarter into a plastic cup or answering cardboard advertisements? Mercy is a long road full of patiently sharing in suffering. Mercy is polarizing because it is something we desire but are tightfisted to offer in return. Mercy is walking with the poor in recognition of our extreme poverty before the Throne of Heaven. Mercy is begging for scraps from the Table of the Lord while throwing banquets for our neighbors. Mercy is sacrificing your resources to bring life to your neighbor - who is Christ.