What About Mercy?

two people shaking hands

Have we reached the point that the divisions in our country have grown too big to bridge?

According to Pew Research Center, roughly eight in ten registered voters in the 2020 election said their differences with the other party were about fundamental American values. Approximately nine in ten worried that a victory by the other side would lead to "lasting harm" in our nation. This ill-sentiment towards those who hold different beliefs has grown in a way that touches almost every aspect of our daily lives. Within the past year alone, the cultural conversation has ranged from masks to Dr. Seuss to racial divisions and cultural inequality. Whatever the case, most discussions seem to center around creating contempt for anyone with a differing view than your tribe. Instead of public discourse, we have moved to public degradation. Instead of debating ideas, we degrade individuals.

Day by day, it is becoming easier to say: "our world is broken, and it is 'their' fault…"

In the time of Jesus, similar rifts existed between different people groups. One example of this was the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans. In the 10th century, the nation of Israel was divided into two – the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. This split led to further divisions that then led to the eventual segmentation of Samaritans and Jews.

These tribes with similar origins despised the other in every way. For the Jewish people, Samaritans were seen as evil. They were known as a blight on the world, traitors, and some of the worst enemies of the Jews. Though they lived in the same place geographically, they were worlds apart personally, religiously, and culturally.

This cultural dynamic is referred to consistently throughout the New Testament. One of the most famous examples is the story of the Good Samaritan. The passage in Luke starts with an expert in the law who poses a simple question to Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus asked him a question in return… "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" Showing his understanding of the Old Testament, he responds correctly with what we know as the greatest commandment. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

The answer was correct, so Jesus tells him to go and do this, and he will receive eternal life. This somewhat interesting interaction seems to frustrate the man. Jesus' response was to go and do this continually, and he will be saved. So being filled with a self-righteous desire, he hopes to justify himself by asking Jesus, "So who is my neighbor?"

Jesus answers with a parable of a Jewish man going about his business traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when he falls among robbers. Being beaten and left for dead, the man by chance is met by a priest. This "man of God" sees him on the road, but instead of seeking to assist the man in his troubling state, he passes him on the other side. Next, a similar occurrence happens, but this time it is a Levite. Similar to the priest, the Levite surprisingly follows suit and abandons the man bypassing him on the other side.

Then when all hope was lost, Jesus introduces – a Samaritan. Unlike his actual neighbor, the enemy of this half-dead man takes compassion on him, binds up his wounds, takes him to an inn, and waits until the man was healed. In the face of what could have been an opportunity for retribution, the Samaritan instead showed mercy towards the individual he had nothing in common with and to whom he owed nothing.

This story of incredible kindness demonstrated to the lawyer what it takes to fulfill the laws of God. Not only was he expected to believe the law and act it out perfectly – he needed to do this towards his most despised enemy to receive salvation.

When we read this story, we want to see ourselves in the shoes of the Samaritan. But, if we were honest, too often we are the lawyer, the priest, or the Levite. We know that we should be extending care even to our worst enemies because of the truth we believe. However, we seem to consistently miss living this truth out when it does not fit our agenda.

Like the lawyer, our view of the world is through the lens of what we delight in most. For him, it was his ability to accomplish salvation through the law. However, as he learned, the object of his delight was not powerful enough to achieve this accomplishment in the face of such opposition.

What is the object of our delight? Is it our political party? Is it being right? Or is it the true source of salvation? C.S. Lewis said it this way, "I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete."

The story of the Samaritan teaches us that not only are we incapable of giving mercy to others on our own, but until we delight in the mercy we have been given, it will be impossible to extend that same type of mercy towards others.

How do we learn to delight in the mercy of God?

We start by seeking to better understand who we are in the context of who God is. As an example, we were once enemies of God. Yet, God showed mercy to us when we hated him. The power of understanding what we deserve – and seeing what we have been given – develops within us a deep-rooted humility, which enables us to love others in the same way we have been loved. Our example is Jesus on the cross. Even amid His suffering and anguish, Christ called on the mercy of God to, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do."

How could we then stare into the face of such mercy and not extend it to others? This incredible message, this gospel of Jesus, should fuel our ability to love the people on the other side of the ideological aisle. Christian, let us not walk on the other side of the road from this cultural moment; but let us delight in the mercy we have received so that we can learn to share it with all we interact with. When so many cry for justice and vengeance because of a world that wants to leave them for dead - let us lean into the mercy of Jesus so that we might see the divisions in our nation healed through the reconciling power of Christ.

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."—Zechariah 4:6
Written by Micah Raies

Micah Raies is a guest contributor for the Institute for Global Engagement at Dallas Baptist University.