There is a startling statement in Luke’s account of Jesus’ sermon on the plain (6:36-38). He says, “Be merciful, just as your father is merciful.” We are to be, as Jesus says, “like the Father.”
We all limp through life with our failings; therefore, we can’t be the perfect image of God. But Jesus helps by advising that we watch what he does, listen to what he says, and we will find out how we can resemble the Father.
Jesus urges us to be merciful. And the motivation? God’s mercy toward us. But what’s strange is that we associate mercy with one who is superior to another. We think of a king being merciful to his subjects; a governor commuting a convict’s sentence from death to life without parole. We naturally ask the question, “How do we ordinary people become superior to others so that we can be merciful?” Actually, we can make ourselves superior to others in our own minds.
We Make Ourselves Superior
We do that most often by passing judgment on others. That is the temptation. We look around and judge ourselves to be better than others, and it seems like we have good evidence right before our eyes. After all, we are not terrorists, murderers, or con artists. In fact, we sincerely say with some degree of certitude, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I certainly could not do the things that he or she does.” Oh, no? The truth is we can!
Only Circumstances Make Us Different
If we all share the common humanity of being weak and wounded, how are we really different or better than others? The only difference between us and others are the circumstances of our lives. The reason we are not terrorists is that we were not born in a nation that is plagued by terrorism. But could we kill someone? Yes, of course. Put ourselves in a battlefield with a gun and we will kill. The circumstances in which we live allow us to live as we do, with God’s grace, of course. How much of our lives are actually beyond our control?
Jesus was wise to remind us that we are who we are because of the wonderful circumstances we have been born into. Others are not so fortunate. To judge them as though we know their circumstances puts us in a dangerous place: the judgment seat of God. Only God is wise enough to occupy such a place. We are better off taking our place in the same boat filled with people who, at their core, are not that much different than ourselves.
We receive mercy. We should also give it.