We all want mercy.
We ask for mercy when the police officer pulls us over for going 5 miles over the speed limit. We want mercy when the bank is threatening foreclosure. We ask for mercy when we show up 15 minutes late to an important meeting. We all want mercy.
And for the most part, we like to think we give mercy.
We give money at church, we drop coins in the Salvation Army bucket, we give some cash to the guy on the corner of the street. So when we read Micah 6:8, “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,” we think, “love mercy, that’s the easy one”.
But what if we are missing a side to mercy that would be huge for us and for others?
In the Old Testament, the word hesed is used most often for two relational situations: those you know and those you don’t know.
- For those we don’t know.
These are people we come across and we have no apparent reason to be generous or merciful to them. There is no prior relationship between you and them, but you nevertheless act generously or mercifully by remaining faithful or committed to them.
It’s a $5 bill to the guy on the corner with a cardboard sign or you letting someone go in front of you at the grocery store. You don’t know them, they probably won’t ever repay you, but you give them this gift of mercy. Or in other words, you give them the same kind of mercy and grace God did for the children of Israel even if the people weren’t part of the nation of Israel.
In the Old Testament, even though God “knows” all, his covenant was only with the nation of Israel, yet you see him extending mercy to those who are not in this tribe; most notably is Rahab. Rahab lives in Jericho, a city that God has just instructed the Israelites to wipe out.
Jericho was an abomination to God and his people, and Rahab is not only a citizen of this place but also a prostitute (another character we did not have a flannel graph for in my Sunday school). Yet, when Joshua and Caleb come to town to scout out the city, she gives them safe passage and hides them until they can safely escape. So God grants her his mercy and spares her life when the Israelites stormed the city. Hesed – for people that are not part of our tribe.
This is the side of mercy we tend to extend easily. But what about the people we DO know?
“The refugee in Syria doesn’t benefit more if you conserve your kindness only for her and withhold it from your neighbor who’s going through a divorce.” -Brene Brown, Rising Strong
- For those we know.
These are our friends, our family, our coworkers, our crazy cousins and the brother-in-law of whom we do not speak. We know these people, we work with these people, we even like some of these people. And sometimes they are in need of help, encouragement, assistance or even forgiveness. Perhaps they have hurt us or betrayed us in some way. Maybe they owe us an apology for a car they totaled or a Christmas vacation they ruined.
Whatever the case, what if in spite of what they owe you, you don’t allow this to end the relationship, but rather grant them kind, faithful, recurring mercy. This is the type of generosity God has modeled for us.
In a sentence, to love mercy is to extend kindness and compassion to those we know and those we don’t – whether they deserve it or not. And most of the time, the person who receives the benefit – is us.
The book Justice. Mercy. Humility: A Simple Path to Following Jesus seeks to define how we can live that out.