It’s humbling to have to admit this, but I am not as merciful and peace loving as I have wanted or hoped to be. You see I am an achiever, a goal-setter and love moving from one project to the next. I love planning, implementing and accomplishing things. I guess there’s nothing wrong with those traits but if that’s all I am, then I’m in trouble.
This last year my wife and I have been going through a devotional every morning that focuses on the gospels. We love it. We are close to celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary and after all these years, we find ourselves focusing on Jesus more than ever. And Jesus is the center character in the gospels, so we have moved in there! We feel the need to interpret the whole Bible from the perspective of the life of Jesus.
So, this is where I have been challenged, humbled and convicted: As a high “C/D” on DISC and an “INTJ” in Myers Briggs and a “one” or “reformer” in the Enneagram, I am strong in truth: What’s right? What’s the information to work on? What’s the logical thing to do? And justice: What are the consequences? Who pays for what? How do you make it right? This means I have been weaker in mercy and peace.
As I read Scripture, I see the law summed up in two commandments with the key word being “love.” I see Jesus having an emphasis on these two traits of mercy and peace in His life and ministry. You say, what about when Jesus said He came to bring a sword? Well, He didn’t bring the strife; that was our negative, defensive, prejudiced response to one another. What about His treatment of the Pharisees? Well, He didn’t respond with revenge at the way He was treated; He challenged but if we could hear His tone, I believe we would have heard mercy and peace coming through – just as Nicodemus and Paul heard Him on the road to Damascus. Didn’t He weep over the condition of Jerusalem? As we look at Jesus’ life, His priority seems to be love. And what’s the out working of love? Mercy and Peace!
The Pharisees were justice and truth people ‒ not justice for the poor, needy and marginalized of society, but justice in terms of creating and obeying the laws they were making and ensuring others received the full negative consequences if they didn’t obey. Not truth, that brought freedom and understanding, but limiting truth to 600+ laws, inspecting everyone’s behavior to check they were living up to every detail. The kind of truth that avoided a merciful approach through their placing customs and laws over the commandment of love.
The Pharisees were ready to condemn anyone that was found breaking one of the rules, like the adulterous woman, whom they threw at Jesus’ feet. Jesus’ response before she said a word was “You are forgiven.” That is called Mercy. Where is the repentance before forgiveness, you ask? What about identifying the truth of the situation to find out what she had really done. Shouldn’t there be consequences and restitution or some kind of penance? No! Just a response of mercy and a challenge to sin no more.
The parable of “the workers in the field” talks about the master’s prerogative to give workers who start at different times of the day the same wage. What, that doesn’t seem just? In fact, it’s downright unfair. I think I would have been one of the workers complaining that I deserved more if I had worked all day! How does that work? It’s called Mercy.
Think about the Prodigal Son. The younger son returns home and doesn’t get to say the speech he has been practicing about not being worthy to be a son because the father runs to meet him and gives an incredible welcome. The father forgives him before the son is able to say anything at all. He actually gets a party in his honor! There is no information sought out as to what he had been getting up to, no repentance required and no penance for his bad behavior. The father goes overboard and doesn’t hide in shame but invites everyone to join the celebration. What mercy and peace to his troubled soul! How would that make the son feel? Loved, accepted and humbled. A heart of repentance would have followed, I am sure.
After Peter denies Jesus and all the disciples (except John) run for their lives, at the crucifixion, Jesus had no negative words to say to any of them. We simply read that Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. There was no mention of disappointment, no lecture about “having told them so many times that this would happen,” no response of, “What were you thinking?!” No, simply love, mercy and peace.
When the wine runs out at the wedding in Cana, there’s no judgement about poor planning or being cheap in their choice of wine. No, He simply does a miracle anonymously and acts with peace and mercy.
Zacchaeus, the tax collector is hated by the Jews and seen as a traitor. Jesus picks him out of the crowd, initiates a relationship and invites Himself to his home. Zacchaeus responds to Jesus’ love and mercy and proclaims a new approach to his job with major restitution to those he has exploited.
Due to Jesus’ lifestyle of reaching out to the marginalized, He is accused by the Pharisees of being a friend of sinners. The approach of Jesus is to be one that is approachable, nonjudgmental, loving and merciful and of course as a result, people seek Him out to enjoy His company.
Jesus sums up the 10 commandments in a few words ‒ to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. God is the most merciful being in the universe. We don’t deserve to be forgiven but He does anyway. Are you forgiven or do you forgive others on the basis of the quality of the repentance? No. Jesus says we are to forgive each other 70×7 or in other words, keep on forgiving no matter what. That’s what God does, so if we are to follow in His footsteps, we will do the same.
When we are caught in doing something wrong, do we cry for justice or mercy? Is someone impacted and motivated to change by our coming with justice and truth or by coming with peace and mercy? When a plague hit the Israelites, David chose the option of coming under God’s judgment because He was full of mercy. So, when it comes to our leadership, what options do we choose? Justice, truth or peace and mercy? If we are going to be like Jesus, we will focus on peace and mercy.
Let me finish by sharing the well-known parable of the talents from Luke 19. We all know the story of the 10 servants who were each given a talent. The first one invests his talents and makes 10 more and as a reward is given 10 cities to rule over. The second servant with five talents makes five more talents and is given five cities to rule over. The third servant knew the master to be a hard man to deal with, taking what wasn’t his and harvesting crops he didn’t plant. He was called a wicked servant because he gave back the talent without having invested it and as a result was killed by the king.
We have interpreted this parable by seeing an image of God as truth and justice. We have been given talents and will be rewarded if we put them to good use and judged and cast away if we don’t.
A closer look might be helpful here.
Jesus came with a mission to reach the poor, heal the sick and release the captives. The Jewish system had become a business of making money from the sacrificial system and creating a hierarchy of control. The Pharisees and scribes ruled with their laws and status. Jesus continually reached out to the ones the Pharisees exploited – the poor, the marginalized and the overlooked. He entered the temple to cleanse it from being a market place and ushered in a new kingdom of love and forgiveness. In this parable, Jesus is the one refusing to enter the financial and spiritual exploitation of the religious rulers. He is the one who refuses to invest His talent or become embroiled in the consumerist society and ends up being killed by the leaders. Jesus’ kingdom didn’t make sense to those religious leaders because it was based on mercy and peace.
What is our leadership based on? Let’s follow Jesus’ steps of love, mercy and peace.