Have you ever known the freedom of being let off? You have been caught red handed, you know what you deserve, but instead you get let off. The dictionary defines mercy as ‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm’ and while I have certainly been on the receiving end of mercy I am not sure that I have often been the dispenser of mercy. Yet Jesus would rather I show mercy than offer sacrifice.
When I think of all the people who have or still do offend me, all the people that I am not loving towards despite Jesus words, I cringe. I would much rather offer sacrifice to Jesus, to tithe my money and my time. That is much easier and I get more say, but to show mercy? To have compassion, to show forgiveness? That’s a different ball game.
But one that Jesus values. And it’s not difficult to see why – where sacrifice traps us in a never ending cycle of making up for mistakes that leads to bitterness and skewed feelings of injustice, mercy frees us from the shackles of self and allows us to bring that freedom to others. No wonder God is more interested in mercy than sacrifice.
As if to smash the point home Jesus tells a story of a servant in Matthew 18. The servant is let off a great debt and immediately goes and punishes another servant who owes him a small one. The comparison is clear. The unmerciful servant is me, and you. Let off our massive debt but the sacrifice of Jesus only to hold others comparatively small debts against them.
Matthew 18:32-35: “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”