Today’s reading: Luke 6-7.
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 throned 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 enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice. – William Shakespeare
When it comes to his words about showing mercy to one’s enemies, Jesus often gets called a radical. We mean he’s being extreme or departing drastically from the norm. That’s an inaccurate assessment. In the other sense of radical, going to the root of a matter, Jesus was never more accurately described. Mercy lies at the foundation of God’s nature.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36
The Risk. There’s a reason people don’t always love their enemies: it’s risky business. They can ignore your kindness, or take advantage of it. You can get hurt emotionally. You can lose financially. It’s hard and often there is no visible payback. Why would anyone do it? Yet Jesus commands us to do it.
The Reward. Jesus says it’s no credit to you if you do good to those who are good to you. That’s what everyone does. It’s motivated by self-interest and it’s easy to do. The word for credit is charis, or grace, or favor. Grace is often described as unmerited favor. Jesus is telling us that we aren’t showing grace when we do good to those who have been good to us, and we earn no favor with God for it. On the other hand, when we love our enemy, or do good to those who aren’t good to us, or lend with the knowledge that we won’t get it back, we earn an eternal reward. Jesus calls it a “great” reward, which can mean a reward that is numerous, a multitude of rewards. There may be no visible payback now, but there is a multitudinous payback coming in the long arrow of eternity.
The Result. Rewards are nice, but they pale in comparison to the result of showing mercy to those who don’t deserve it. When we show mercy we become children of God. Children can’t help but share some characteristics of their parents. It’s in their DNA. Are you your heavenly Father’s child? Then you’ll share his mercy DNA. Don’t have that quality of mercy? Maybe you need to evaluate whether you are actually a child of God. Jesus said the merciful will receive mercy, and we require mercy in order to be made right with God.
Are you turned off by the thought of doing something for a reward? God seems to have wired us that way, for he repeatedly offers us rewards for doing what he commands. Think about this: it takes faith to believe that God will keep his word and give us the promised reward. Responding to God’s offer is a test of your faith. Next time your faith is tested by someone who mistreats you, remember the eternal reward God has offered you and be God-like. Show your enemy some unmerited favor.
Image by The UpTake on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0