Be Merciful

St. Luke 6:36

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse

Trinity Season 2007

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

This portion of the Sermon on the Mount is probably the most difficult in all of Scripture. Being merciful to enemies has never been my strongest attribute, and it is always the point in my life where my sin is most likely to justify itself and say. “Well, they had it coming. They deserved it. They shouldn't have been so mean and nasty if they didn't want to receive that in return.” Notice that Jesus is not talking about simply being passive toward those who do bad things to us—simply not retaliating—but he says we are required to be positively good to them. “Be merciful,” he says. Your enemy is anyone who doesn’t like what you do or think, not somebody that you have a major conflict with. Your enemy may be the person sitting next to you in the chair this morning. It is always natural to want to win. I love winning. I hate losing. Losing is for losers, and I'm not a loser. Marianne couldn't play an innocent card game for years because the very first time we tried to play cards after we got married, she just trounced me royally, and I couldn't stand the idea of playing her because she was such a great card shark. I had to calm down, and it took me years to be able to graciously lose to my wife. She always wins. I can't say “sometimes graciously lose” because I always lose when we play cards. But it is natural to want to defeat the enemy. But the whole point of this passage is that we should be like God, and loving his enemies is exactly what God is like. It sounds ridiculous to love your enemy, but that is exactly what God is like. God doesn’t act in a way that is reasonable to us. He does something entirely stupid, we think. He loves his enemies, and incredibly he tells us to do the same thing. This isn’t the way we tend to relate to each other—children to each other, husbands to their wives, even members of the Church, and maybe I should say especially members of the Church. We are afraid of each other rather than loving each other. So when Jesus says, “Be merciful,” those two words encapsulate everything that is so unreasonable about Christianity and about the Gospel.

I. The Gospel Doesn’t Make Sense

It is absolutely ridiculous to do what Jesus says here, to be merciful, because people will take advantage of you. You can't be merciful to other people because people are sinners, they are always looking for an edge, and they will take advantage of you. I remember on one of my trips to Israel when I had a group of students from the seminary where was teaching in there for a month, we had a bus driver who was a Muslim. We had a tour guide; I was just the sponsor, we went to sites that I had been to many times before on my various trips to Israel so sometimes when all the students went with the guide into a synagogue or archaeological dig, I would stay on the bus and chat with the Muslim bus driver. We had some very interesting conversations. The most interesting one was when he said that the reason he could not be a Christian is that Christianity is so unreasonable. It didn't make sense. And the one thing he drew attention to that didn't make sense most of all about Christianity was that you are supposed to love your enemies. Though he wasn't quoting Luke 6, it is this piece of Christianity that he found most ridiculous, most unreasonable. The reason why, in his opinion, Christianity would finally lose and Islam would win out is that Islam is a religion of power, not of forgiveness.

Jesus says, “Be merciful.” Think about what has happened in your life when you haven’t done what Jesus said. Have things gotten better? Has your life turned out to be somehow magically wonderful because you were not merciful? When we follow our own opinion of what seems right when someone does evil to us, Jesus says we are like the blind leading the blind. We think we are going in the right direction, but we both—that is, ourselves and the person we are leading—end up in  the ditch. We are afraid people will run over us, take advantage of us, abuse the goodness and mercy we show, and we can be assured that they will. Jesus still says, “Be merciful.” He does not say this because he didn't know that people would take advantage of us when we do. We take advantage of him when he shows mercy. But are we willing to live in terms of that dog-eat-dog view of life, and lose the joy and freedom of the grace of God? What Jesus is saying is “Yes, all the rest of the world may do that. But what will happen to you, what rot will take place in your soul if you go along with them, if you go over to their side and live in that same dog-eat-dog way of life? Be merciful. God has not treated you in that way, giving you the just punishment you so richly deserve, but rather has freely forgiven you of all your sins.” So let us show that God is our Father by the family likeness of being merciful to those who sin against us.

II. The Gospel is the Only Thing That Makes Sense

The world gives you credit for defeating your enemies. When you go to school, and you study the history of the world, what are you most often studying? The history of who won and who lost. History books are written by the winners. We don't go to the losers in various conflicts and say, “You tell us what happened.” Maybe they do write their own book, but it is not a state-sponsored, approved book. The approved history of the world is written by the winners. Only God gives you credit for loving your enemies.

Loving your enemies confuses them, Jesus says. But most of all it changes them. There was a husband who said he couldn’t love his wife even though the Bible says, “Love your wife.” He said, “I can't love her. She's so unlovable. I just can't obey what the Bible says.” Then the counselor said to him, well, the Bible says “Love your neighbor.” “Well, you just don't understand how terrible my wife is. She just isn't as nice as my neighbor. I wish my neighbor could teach my wife a few things about being nice, but so far, she just hasn't learned anything. I just can't love my wife.” The minister counseling this husband wouldn't let him off because Jesus won't let any of us off. So the counselor wisely said,  “The Bible says to love your enemies.” So you see, my dear friends, the Gospel is the only thing that makes sense because it teaches us to be like God. Loving your enemies is the only thing that doesn't keep the conflict going. If you retaliate in kind, which is what makes sense to us, that just perpetuates the conflict, whatever it is. The love of God transforms enemies, changes their dispositions, and converts them into friends.

III. The Gospel Makes Us Act Like God

So the Gospel is really the only thing that does make sense because the Gospel makes us act like God. God is kind to the unthankful and evil—including us. We tend not to want to think of ourselves as being the unthankful and evil part of society. Those people that are unthankful and evil live over there someplace. They are not nice, respectable people like we are. But you see, God found us in our sinfulness. That is the Gospel. God loved us when we didn't love him. That is the Gospel. God came to us when we were enemies of Jesus Christ and transformed us. That is the good news. When we understand what God has done for us it will change our thinking and behavior toward others. If God has so loved us, then so we ought to love them as well.

Every single Lord's Day we have a picture of this right in front of us. You have the Eucharist every single Lord's Day, which is a picture of God’s gift to you and to me. So it is my extreme pleasure to be able to invite you to come now and partake of this gift of God's love. This is the picture of Christ coming into the world, laying down his life for his enemies.