Mercy is the first of the active, happy-making characteristics to be mentioned. It encompasses those who give and those who serve and is directed towards those who are suffering in some way. It involves doing something practical rather than just being an element of personal character. In that way it differs from the earlier characteristics to which Jesus refers at the start of the sermon. It is perhaps worth quoting the well-known speech by Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ rather than trying a dictionary definition of mercy.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
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 this 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.
vv 50-51 And one of them struck at the high priest’s slave, slashing off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this.” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Here was Jesus, at one of the most difficult moments in his life. The Jewish mini-mob was there to arrest him, and doubtless some resistance was expected as the group was well armed. One of the disciples lashed out with his sword. (Peter according to John 18:10 – ‘Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) ‘ I wonder if John remembered the name of the servant because he later became a disciple of Jesus?) Jesus immediately stepped in, stopped the violence before it could escalate, and healed the man’s ear. Is that what anybody might have expected, I wonder? Not likely! This was a demonstration of the compassion, or mercy, of Jesus. This was unexpected, undeserved, extraordinary kindness. Jesus would not leave the man to suffer on His account, and drew from Him this act of mercy.
Mercy is kindness reaching out to relieve the suffering of even those who would harm us. Showing mercy takes no account of a person’s motives, only of the suffering being endured and which can be alleviated. Mercy is shown when, in wartime, medics treat the wounds of their enemies.
How can you demonstrate mercy in your life? Will you help that really difficult neighbour when an emergency occurs? Will you clean up the wounded knee of the child who has deliberately damaged your car?
Mercy stretches out beyond plain kindness and touches the lives of the difficult and frankly unpleasant people who might have caused you problems.