By Basilea Schlink
When we think of the sin of mercilessness, we usually think of a hard-hearted person, that coldly refuses to listen to pleas for help from the needy. That is wrong, because it is one-sided. Mercilessness includes something else that pertains to us all: "passing by". We do not need to do anything more than pass by the needs of our neighbours. Then we are unmerciful.
Jesus shows us this clearly in His parable about the "Good Samaritan". He calls the Samaritan compassionate, because he stopped when he saw someone in need and helped him. The others, who also saw his need, simply passed by and in that moment they became unmerciful. And yet their behaviour was almost understandable. Perhaps they were expected elsewhere; perhaps they had a ministry to perform. So they hastened to reach Jericho by evening which was a day's journey away from Jerusalem. Perhaps it was shortly before nightfall. For the family's sake they could not endanger themselves. Worse things could have happened to them than to the one who lay there robbed and beaten. That is why they passed by him. They were probably not aware of the fact that this was a sin; after all, they did not cold-heartedly refuse to answer a call for help. They probably thought their obligation to get to Jericho quickly was more important than helping the robbed victim. If their conscience pricked them, they probably deceived themselves by saying that they did not have any opportunity to help in this case, because they did not have a donkey or a horse to carry the victim. So they passed him by, perhaps even a bit sad about his situation. But God had stamped them as "unmerciful".
Passing by someone who is in need! How often have we done this without realizing that God's words of judgment applied to us; "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy" (Jas. 2: 13).
Perhaps we have never applied this terrible verdict to ourselves, because we have not realized that God was waiting for us to stop and be merciful to someone who was in need. But we passed by without taking advantage of the opportunity to help. We were unmerciful. What a shock it will be for us when we find ourselves at the judgment seat of God and hear Him pronounce the sentence of the unmerciful over us, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25: 41).
Who will be sentenced to eternal fire? Those who did not take in the strangers, care for the sick, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry-those who do not lovingly help their neighbours.
But Jesus has come so that we do not have to remain in sin and be damned with the world. He wants to remould us into His merciful image and let us come into His kingdom. Because Jesus loves us, He does not want us to be sent to hell because we were unmerciful. We must listen to His warning "Be alert!" Just because we have not rejected any requests, we cannot be sure that this judgment will not strike us! Every day we must entreat God to convict us of our sin of mercilessness in our daily life: "Show me, Lord, when I am about to pass by a person in need, either physically or otherwise. Let me see when my self-will is the reason, because I do not want others to frustrate my plans and intentions. Or show me where I do not have loving eyes for the needs of others, because I am so involved in my ego." Only those who ask will receive. Let us fight an intensive battle of prayer for mercifulness. Our fate in eternity depends upon this.
But this daily prayer is not enough. The good Samaritan not only had a merciful heart which could feel the needs of the other, but he was also willing to make a sacrifice for the needy. We have to commit ourselves to making sacrifices for our neighbour, for genuine mercy can only be practised when a sacrifice is included. The Samaritan sacrificed his safety; it could have cost him his life, to stay by the wounded man if the robbers had come back again. But we do not always have to risk our lives to be merciful. Sometimes it is just a very small thing that is expected from us, like giving money. Or perhaps, during times of scarcity, we ought to give others something to eat, something to wear or a place to sleep even though we ourselves may have next to nothing. And how often does a small sacrifice of mercy simply mean giving others of our time? How often have we already become guilty in these matters?
Everything depends upon taking Jesus' exhortation seriously, "Be merciful!" I wonder, do we live according to the standards by which we will be judged by one day? "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6: 36). That means, for example, that we have to take the parable of the unmerciful servant seriously and apply it to our lives. The unmerciful servant was not merciful towards his fellow servant who was indebted to him. He did not see that since God was merciful to him and forgave him he was now bound to do the same. God is expecting us to be filled with mercy when others sin against us. He does not want us to keep account of their sin, but to forgive them mercifully.
Being unmerciful and not being able to forgive can one day cost us our lives and our inheritance in the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus says that the unmerciful servant, and all who follow his example, will be "delivered to the jailers", that means, they will be in Satan's kingdom. The Apostle Paul adds: "Those who do such things deserve to die" (Rom. 1: 31f). We deceive ourselves when we pretend that passing by others, or not being able to forgive, is something harmless. Jesus' words are true and we will be judged according to what He said. But by mercifulness we do not mean tolerating sin and no longer being willing in humble love to help others see their sin. If we neglect to do this, we will also become unmerciful, but in another sense, and this will also bring judgment down upon us.
If we repent of our lack of mercy and bring it under the blood of Jesus, we will also be compelled to go to those to whom we were unmerciful and seek to make amends by being especially loving and helpful towards them. Or if we can no longer reach them, we will bestow this kindness on others. Then the guilt of mercilessness will be blotted out in the blood of the Lamb for time and eternity.
So Jesus' words, "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful", should not make us discouraged and despondent, when it seems as though our hard hearts, which continually pass by the needs of others, will never be made merciful. We must believe Jesus when He says, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (Luke 18: 27). With God everything is possible, for He is almighty. In Jesus there is redemption from all sins, even from mercilessness, for He has paid the full ransom price for our sins. We have been redeemed to be merciful. Whoever claims this in faith, ever anew, will find that he is changed into God's image of mercy, from one degree of glory to another and one day he will enter the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of love and mercy.