Thursday, July 8, 2010

Raining Mercy

I arrived at work in the gentlest of rain showers this morning; it was wetter than mist but just barely rain. Both air and water were warm and I could have cheerfully stayed out in it until I was soaked. It was fitting weather for my mental meanderings about mercy.

I was thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) because it's the lesson for this Sunday. Usually, when I think or talk about this lesson, I go straight to the "who is my neighbor?" question. This time, for some reason, what jumped out at me was the answer to that question, which is, "the one who showed him mercy". So, I got to thinking about mercy.

One of the first things to pop into my head was Portia's monologue from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice . It's a lovely passage, memorized by earnest 8th graders all over America in my day. Remember the bard's great words? "The quality of mercy is not strain'd, 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."

So, in the rain this morning I found myself again thinking about mercy. I understood mercy so well as a child! Life was consistent for me and I knew the rules and the consequences and so when I was spared a deserved consequence I recognized mercy. In those situations mercy looked a lot like forgiveness or grace. Other times, it was a peer helping me bridge the gap of being the new kid - offering me a place at the lunch table or supplying an introduction to a teacher or student. In those situations, mercy was closer to kindness. In both cases though, the forgiveness or the kindness, mercy was not asked for by me nor coerced from the giver.

In the Good Samaritan story we are told that the Samaritan was moved by pity. I think that's why a parent revokes a well-deserved punishment or a child befriends a new kid at school - they are moved. Maybe pity isn't the best word. Other translations and paraphrases of the story say things like "his heart went out to him" or "he had compassion". That fits closer with my own experience and understanding of mercy but I really want to hang on to the idea that we are MOVED to be merciful. I think that is why it blesses us to show mercy - that impulse is a small encounter with God.

And then here's the part that could keep me standing outside in the rain for a long time - as soon as I start TRYING to be merciful I don't think that what I give will be mercy. It might be forgiveness, and it might be kindness, but it won't be mercy. I'm pretty sure I can only do mercy when God is working through me.

So mercy falls as gentle rain from heaven; may we be moved to mercy often. And if the spirit moves you - go out and play in the rain with some kids!

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