A casual flick through daytime TV, or even most newspapers, or overhearing many a conversation in a coffee shop or down a pub – we’ll often find ourselves confronted with the idea that people should get what they deserve. After all, we do all to some extent hunger for justice.
But there’s a difference between wanting things in the world to be right, and holding things against people. There’s a line, somewhere, between when it’s right to hold someone to account for something, and when it’s right to let it go. Sometimes it’s important to do both. Jesus said:
“Rich are those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”1
The one thing I’ve learned about justice and mercy is that justice is something we’re happy to give but don’t want to receive, and that mercy is something we’re happy to receive but often don’t want to give.
Jesus also says that we should treat others “as we want to be treated”. That, after all, is justice. Everyone being treated equally, including ourselves. How then, do we manage to balance out justice and mercy? And why should we?
The Good News
When we show others mercy we “let them off”, but we also let ourselves off. We are free to let go of the hurt and resentment caused by the souring of the relationship – whatever that relationship may have been – to a family member, friend, or even if to a people group that we’re stereotyping via a stranger. Showing mercy helps us not to form bonds of prejudice. It helps us to avoid a build up of resentment to those close to us.
There’s also something to be said for the old adage, “What goes around comes around”. People do tend to treat people in the way that they are treated. Behaviour is infectious. If you want to be shown mercy, it’s a good idea to start showing it!
Do you harbour resentment towards anyone for anything? If the answer to that question is “yes” then you’re in the same boat as me, and probably all of humanity! Try letting go of some of that resentment. Choose to show them mercy. If you don’t feel that you can, or want to, try this: think of the last time you deserved judgement, but someone showed you mercy. Think about how that made you feel, and apply it to your situation now instead.
May you be rich in showing mercy, and rich in receiving it!