Monday Matters (October 11, 2021)

Matthew 18:23-34
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Lord have mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
-Matthew 5:7

When Shakespeare wrote that the quality of mercy is not strained, it’s apparent he never got stuck in traffic. When I’m driving, and find myself in the wrong lane, I seek the mercy of other drivers to let me in. It is sometimes forthcoming, sometimes not. I’m grateful when I receive mercy. Yet when I’m in the correct lane, and some clueless bozo tries to squeeze into my lane, I only grudgingly let them in, usually with some thoughts about their ineptitude as a driver.

So today we talk about receiving and offering mercy, strained or not. There’s probably no better way to explain this beatitude then to share the parable Jesus told about a man who received mercy and then failed to show mercy to someone else. (That story is included above.) It suggests a dynamic implicit in the Lord’s prayer, which is basically that our asking for forgiveness is somehow related to our willingness to offer forgiveness. Our demonstration of mercy is connected to our receiving mercy.

So how might we grow in our capacity to be merciful, when often that goes against our instincts? As far as I’m concerned, showing mercy can at times take some work. It can call for intention. As I thought about that kind of intention, a few thoughts came to mind, triggered by Jesus’ parable, thoughts about what it takes to be merciful.

First, remember a time when you have been shown mercy. What did that feel like? Was it something you felt you deserved, or did it simply come to you as an act of grace, showered down on us to continue to channel Shakespeare? If it came to you as grace, as gift, how did that feel? Was it a joy or were you like Javert in Les Miserables who couldn’t bear that he was in a position where he was dependent on someone showing him mercy. He took it as an indication of weakness. He literally could not live with this view of the universe.

Second, if you find yourself being asked to show mercy to someone who has somehow done you wrong, take a deep breath and put yourself in the place of that person, the one asking for mercy. What is going on with them? What causes them to act as they did? Maybe that involves a conversation about the offending act. Maybe that calls for nothing more or less than prayer for that person. That can often be a way to get to mercy.

Third, consider whether the offense that calls you to show mercy is something that you actually need to work on in yourself. Maybe I’m the only one who has experienced this, but sometimes when I get worked up about something somebody has done, when something really irritates me about another person, I find after a bit of reflection, or perhaps some feedback from folks I trust, that I’m guilty of the very thing that makes me want to withhold mercy. Funny how that works. Sort of funny.

The bottom line: we all need to have mercy shown us. So if we want to know mercy, we need to show mercy. While I believe that is true, I also find it kind of annoying. Which is where the work comes in. If you do nothing else to try to live into this beatitude, think about the wideness of God’s mercy, wider than the sea. Celebrate the love of God broader than the measure of our minds. Ask God to help in that process, which may well be why in the liturgy we repeat, again and again: Lord have mercy.

-Jay Sidebotham

Please join us November 4th at 7pm Eastern

RenewalWorks: Connect with Jerusalem Greer and Jay Sidebotham
to discuss My Way of Love for Small Groups

Join our RenewalWorks: Connect email list to receive more details and the Zoom link