I wrote last week about the good news of not having to be God. We are less than perfect. I’m not ok. You’re not ok. But that’s ok.
This week, I want to write about extending that same compassion to others. It’s the formula the Lord’s prayer suggests: we are forgiven our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Or as Jesus quotes the Prophet Hosea twice in Matthew’s account of his life and ministry, using God’s words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” We need not sacrifice ourselves, but we must forgive others.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and his disciples they are to go and learn what this means. There’s a tall order.
We are to learn how to offer others the mercy that we need ourselves. We cannot simply let ourselves off life’s proverbial hooks, reassure ourselves that “I don’t have to be God.” And then fail to give others the same leeway, opportunity and second chance.
Rather, the logical extension of my not having to be God is that neither does anyone else (well, except for God!) have to be God. So your neighbor who annoys you. Your boss who mistreats you. Your family member who hurts you. Your partner who betrays you. The stranger who accosts you…
Oh, you can notice, regret and reject the ways they disappoint and bother and harm you. But that does not give you the right to overlook, regret or reject them. Instead, you have to not only put up with their humanness and failings. More than that, God is instructing, none of their hurtfulness nor your injury is sufficient to free you from God’s expectation that you show them mercy. That you let them be imperfect as you are imperfect.
Let me try this another way. I remember a sermon from my college days. The preacher paraphrased the text from Hosea as something like: “I desire mercy rather than whatever other thing you would offer instead. No matter how good your substitute is! …Because you and I know that you are offering that alternative in order to get out of showing mercy.”
God wants mercy. Not some substitute. Not something second best. Not whatever we may devise. Not even something good if it is given so that you do not have to be merciful.
Mercy in our day has too often acquired a narrower definition than it has when Jesus quoted Hosea. Today, mercy has a legal sense, withholding punishment or showing pity on someone in their wrong-doing by not meting out the justice that is due. It’s a reprieve. A pardon.
But the Hebrew word we are translating, chesed, has a far broader scope, and that’s what Jesus would have meant.
It’s about the covenant and staying in relationship with God and thereby with others. Chesed is often translated in English at “steadfast faithfulness.”
I think of it this way, “No matter what you someone has done to sin against you, do not let sin separate you, to become your cut off. Rather we are to figure out a way – mercy! – to prevent someone’s misstep from becoming a complete loss.
See you in church (where we go to learn what this means),