When I was introduced to him, John was only one bad “fix” away from death. John had been actively using drugs since the age of nine. His father introduced him to drugs and alcohol to calm him down when he was acting up or just trying to be a kid. As you can imagine, John’s life was quickly thrown into a chaotic whirlwind of crime, addiction, bad decisions, and broken relationships. In his mind, there was no hope of ever being released from this storm that had tossed him around day after day, year after year. When I met John, he looked tired, scared, and worn down. He’d spent so many years attempting to earn others’ love, trying to get clean, and trying to rebuild relationships with those who at one time said they loved him. In the eyes of those around him, John was not worth the time or the effort to help or forgive him. For years people told him he would never get his life together, leaving him in a pit of self-doubt and hardening him to the point that he just couldn’t trust anyone anymore. He didn’t believe there was anyone who cared enough about him to help him, much less show him any kind of compassion or mercy.
The world we live in today seems to have the same pattern of walking away from people as did John’s family and friends. When someone messes up, it is easier to point out their sins and turn our backs on the messiness they have created, than it is to roll up our sleeves and get messy with them. Turn on the news or open your favorite social media app and you will quickly find compassion lacking, which then only leads to more suffering. There are stories of families divided and broken over differing opinions, communities torn apart by poverty and homelessness, political parties unable to have civil discussions, talk of war, and so many more stories of suffering. We see a lack of true love and compassion for others.
Our society today is more merciless than merciful. Mercy is a way for us to make space for others. Mercy is a gift given to someone who is suffering by someone acting with compassion.
Christ-like compassion gives us hope. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” As Christians, we are shown extreme mercy by God. We are all sinners and fall short of what we were created to be, but God in his great love has extended his mercy to us so that we can be reunited with him. Mercy is God’s gift to us, and it is freely given to us at the time of our salvation. We in no way deserve this gift, but out of his loving kindness and grace he extends it to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
We all know how impatient we are, but God is patient, and he transfers that patience to broken and sinful humans even when we don’t deserve it.
My friend John is not a patient man, but God in his mercy loves him and cares about him in ways that are unimaginable. John told me stories about his life and all the terrible things he has done to himself and to others. As he shared these stories, he often broke down in tears of shame and deep regret for his past. In our time together I was able to share the gospel with him, and together we prayed for his salvation. John had times of great joy and hope, knowing that he accepted Christ as his savior, and yet he still struggled with accepting the idea that anyone could love him after all the awful things he had done. How could anyone possibly show him any kind of mercy?
This is a common thought for us, and especially for people who don’t follow Jesus. At times we feel compassion or take pity on someone who is truly down and out, but Jesus is the true example and expression of God’s mercy. If we want to show the world around us mercy, we would do well to follow the ways Jesus shows us throughout Scripture. Jesus was always filled with compassion for those who were suffering, and then he acted on it. Jesus always offered his grace to those who were undesirable in the eyes of the culture around them. Jesus ate with despised tax collectors, cleansed lepers, healed the sick, fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, and raised the dead.
Mercy is essential in the ministry of Jesus and his Father, and it should be essential in our own lives as believers. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). God has given us gifts and created us to share these gifts with the world in which we live. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can show each other and others around us compassion in action in the form of mercy. Imagine our communities working together out of compassion for each other! The Bible tells us “…the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
John is a man who never imagined feeling the love of Jesus, much less love from anyone else in his personal life. What John experienced is unconditional love from the Father! He experienced a transformation of heart and of mind. He personally experienced the love of others walking with him through his addiction. He has been given a second chance with his daughter, and he now has a glimpse of hope. All of this became possible as he confessed his sins and trusted in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
May we all look to Jesus on the cross as mercy in its greatest form!
Pastor Jordan Herrick serves Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church in Colfax, Wisconsin.