Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
I first remember using the word ‘mercy’ as a child in the middle of a tickle fight with my dad. It is what you would yell between giggles as Dad, a vicious and effective tickler, had you curled up, gasping for breath and trying really, really hard not to wet yourself from laughing so hard.
What is ‘mercy’? Clearly in my house it wasn’t to do with a reprieve from punishment. In its traditional, non-tickling related sense, mercy can be defined as ‘kindness that makes you forgive someone, usually someone that you have authority over’. Throughout the Bible, God is described as ‘merciful’, ‘compassionate’, and ‘kind’. In his letter, James is exhorting Christians to reflect God’s character in the way they both speak and act.
‘Speaking’ and ‘doing’ encompass within them pretty much all forms of human interaction, and James is particularly concerned with how these two things are done by the church in relation to the poor. This short extract comes at the end of a section where James is condemning favouritism of the rich over the poor – and in our world today, this disparity between rich and poor remains. James’ words are as relevant to us today as they were to their very first readers.
James’ ultimate concern, it seems, is that Christians follow the golden rule – to love their neighbours, both rich and poor, as themselves. That is the summary of all the law and the prophets, after all, and the guiding point by which we are called to live as Jesus’ disciples. And yet, mercy is the lynchpin of how God acts – Jesus himself made it clear that it is the merciful who obtain mercy… just look at the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35).
Whether in a tickle fight or not, it is our human nature to want those with more power and in authority over us to show mercy – no matter who we are or what power or possessions we might have. And so, James says, we must do the same for those around us. Mercy triumphs over judgement – for God, and therefore also for us as we interact with those around us.