Why Being Merciful Is Smart

If, on the way to court, you received advice on how you could influence the judge to be less severe in your case, would you not consider following that advice? Surely I would, unless the “way” involved bribery, or something corrupt. And, in fact, Jesus our very judge, has described an upright way that we can avoid severity on the Day of Judgment.  Simply put, the way is for us to show mercy.

Now I don’t know about you, but I am going to need a lot of mercy on the Day of Judgment. So I, and probably you as well, am glad that the Lord has shown how we can positively influence the Day we are judged and see that mercy is magnified. Consider some of the following texts.

  1. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matt 5:7)
  2. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matt 6:14-15)
  3. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. But mercy triumphs over judgment! (James 2:12-13)
  4. If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. (Proverbs 21:13)
  5. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)
  6. For the measure with which you measure others, will be the measure by which you are measured (Mark 4:24)
  7. And then there is the terrifying parable too long to quote here of the man who owed a huge debt he could never repay. The king cancelled the whole debt. But the man refused to cancel the debt of one who owed him a smaller amount. To this unmerciful man the King then decreed: 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.” (Matt 18:32-35)

So the basic point is clear enough, if we want to be shown mercy in our judgment (and trust me, we’re all going to need a LOT of it), then we need to pray for a merciful heart.

Let’s go so far to say that if anyone is harsh, mean-spirited, unforgiving, hypercritical or condemning, he is a fool. He is simply storing up wrath for himself on the Day of Judgment. Now why do that?

Mercy is our only hope to avoid strict judgment. And these texts show us that mercy here will lead to mercy there.

It is true that there are times in this world when punishments must be issued and penalties assessed. But to the degree that these are made with an eye to correction and reform then they are part of love, and relate to mercy. For, fraternal correction is a work of charity. It is better to suffer punishment here that leads to reform, than to evade punishment here and possibly end in hell. Thus, not all punishment is excluded by the edict of mercy, but, only let mercy and love be the sources from which it comes.

So, some advice to the wise, bury the hatchet now, ask the Lord for a merciful and forgiving heart, or suffer the full force of a strict judgment. Pay attention! The judge is willing to be influenced on our behalf and has signaled what will move him in our direction. Why hesitate any longer? The merciful are blessed because they are going to be shown mercy. And without mercy, we don’t stand a chance.

Photo above by Jim Linwood via Creative Commons

Here is the great Miserere by Allegri. The text, sung in Latin is Psalm 51 which begins, “Have Mercy on me Lord in your great mercy.” In the verses the soprano hits a remarkable high ‘C.’  The Tallis Scholars sing. The soprano closest to the camera in the blue dress, during the early footage is Tessa Bonner who died in the past year. We pray, that she who sings of mercy here, did, in fact, find that mercy in abundance.

12 Replies to “Why Being Merciful Is Smart”

  1. Msgr., if you ‘bury the hatchet’ with someone who has wronged you terribly, someone who neither seeks your forgiveness nor values it, someone who sees no wrong in what they have done and would view your mercy as their triumph over a weakling, is this still an act of mercy on your part?

    1. Sounds like you may have been hurt and that is surely regrettable. It is not possible to live in peace with everyone since they are not willing, as you state. However, from the standpoint of my heart, carrying anger and hurt toward the other IS something God can help me with. It has been my experience that God does bless me in this area, and that I am largely free of the anger and hurt I used to carry in regard to certain people and things that have happened in my life. I think this is part of what it means to receive a merciful and forgiving heart from God. Of course it has to be His work, for my flesh wishes to cling to resentments and work over past hurts. But in the end God has blessed me with a “bad” memory and given me insight into the pain of others who have hurt me. It is a freeing experience. What ever anger and hurts we carry, I know we can’t take them to heaven, it wouldn’t be heaven if we could. Thus, whether here or in purgatory, God will have to free us from this.

      Finally, your phrase “an act of mercy on your part” is not the way I would put it. For is not something I do, but something I receive, if I am open to it. God is the author and source of mercy in my life. It is not I who do, but he who does it, who works it, in me. It is a grace. That is why, in the article I speak of seeking the gift of a merciful heart. Hence I would not speak of a “triumph” over another person, but simply of a gift to be free of severity, wrath, revenge, and so forth. A gentle heart is a peaceful heart, and this is a very great gift.

  2. Thank you for your article thats so full of truth and good sense.However I struggle with the thought that God himself does not forgive unrepentant sinners.Therefore if I am expected to forgive even unrepentant sinners who may have sinned against me or others in this life.How are we going to accomplish something that God myself does not do?Thanks again for all the great articles that you publish.

    1. I think the answer is that hell is eternal as an expression of the fact that the “no” of the human person has become final, not that God refuses to forgive after a certain point or that mercy has been set aside. That there comes a point when our decisions are final and never to be changed is somewhat mysterious to us, but the fact is God exhorts us to change while we can (now) for there comes a time when it will no longer pertain to us to change. Further if God forgave unrepentant sinners, would that forgiveness not be an imposition? Since they are unrepentant they do not seek or want forgiveness and likely also resent someone suggesting that they need it. Or so it would seem . Hence I think the refusal is on our side, not God’s

  3. I have found that the key to being merciful – for me, anyway – is being shown my own misery. There seems to be a direct correlation between being aware of the stark ugliness of my own sinful nature and the extent of my charity toward others. I have to beg God to show me his mercy every day by asking him to allow me to see my need for it however painful that might be.

    1. Yes, and that certainly seems to be a central theme in the terrifying parable of Matt 18. The wicked servant didn’t seem to really appreciate or understand how much he had been forgiven. Thanks for adding this aspect to the article.

  4. To your wonderful scriptural examples I would like to add this one from Luke16:25 Abraham said, “My son, remember that during your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony.”
    The rich man wasn’t even merciful enough to give his scraps to the poor.
    Also; to add an a little more to the inquiries about those who have sinned against us and don’t seek forgiveness from us or from God; for most of my adult life I’ve found that, by harbouring things like resentments and a desire for revenge, it’s as if I’ve put a cap over an unhealed wound which continues to fester in its sealed isolation.
    When I’ve forgiven and let go of my resentments the wound is free to drain away the poisons. This was very difficult at first because of my fear to face the old emotional pain which was still present and only numb. However, when I went through the process and experienced the relief and healing an eagerness to continue healing slo-o-o-owly grew.
    I haven’t been given any graces for miraculous healing but, I can follow God’s instructions for salvation and spiritual health and (possibly) provide myself as a living evidence to His love.
    Buying into divide and conquer by pointing the finger of blame at each other could hardly serve any worthwhile interests for us. However, I can readily believe that Satan would love to see us wallowing in a state of spiritual sickness and emotional isolation which would make us vulnerable to him.

  5. Mercy and forgiveness are things I struggle with.often. TNP’s insight and this article hit a bull’s eye regarding always being mindful of my constant need and reliance on God’s patience and mercy with my own misery and my requirement to be merciful. However, acknowledging and reflecting on my need doesn’t always seem to allow me to let go and forgive.

    The thing that seems most helpful to me is a sense of sorrow. A sense of sorrow for the injury incurred and a sense of sorrow for the source that inflicted the injury. Allowing my feelings of contempt and hurt to be transformed into a sense of sorrow instead, somehow brings me closer to a sense of forgiveness.

    The thing that brings me to this realization is recalling Mary standing by and watching what they did to her Son. Although I’ll never understand the mystery of what she experienced that day, in the final analysis, any injury I’m required to accept or forgive doesn’t seem as insurmountable.

    On a lighter note, for those who enjoyed the video, there’s a great version of the Miserere on CD titled Sacred Treasures II, Choral Masterworks from the Sistine Chapel. This has become one of my favorite CD’s.

  6. Hello, Msgr.Pope
    Thank you for your kind reply to my inquiry & to your other readers who provided me with insights into how to show mercy to even the unrepentant sinner(s).

  7. This is a helpful suggestion I received from a holy priest:
    Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, from the heart, for the person who has offended you.

  8. Does anyone ever pray, “Thank you, Lord, for this person who offended me. Now I have someone to forgive, and now you can be merciful to me.”?

  9. It is an awesome thought to think that our unforgiving hearts can actually prevent Almighty God from doing what He so dearly wants to do: forgive us.

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