How do we define mercy, and do our motives for sharing it matter? Technically, mercy is an expression of kindness or grace to those who deserve otherwise. Years ago I braked on a wet road and slid into a car that had slowed down to cross a rough railroad crossing. When our bumpers collided I saw the older couple in the car I hit lurch forward and bounce back into their seats. I rushed to see if they were alright and the husband slowly exited his car and walked back to survey the damage without saying a word. Fortunately, those were the days of huge rubber bumpers and incredibly both of our vehicles were unscathed. I apologized profusely and braced myself for a barrage of angry words. But they never came. The husband said, “That’s alright. There doesn’t seem to be any damage and we’re alright. Just remember to be more careful when the roads are wet.” Surely you will understand why I hugged him, and thanked him before returning to my car. I didn’t deserve this act of kindness, but I received it gladly and to this day remember it when I catch myself following too closely on a wet roadway.
I have often wondered why the man in the other car was so gracious. Was the accident less serious than I first thought? I don’t think so. The car I hit skidded at least two feet on impact. Was the couple in the car afraid of reporting an accident to their insurance company, fearing it might hurt their status in their advancing age? Or could it be the husband remembered when someone showed him mercy, and sensing my sincere remorse decided to give me a break? I will never know.
But there’s more. I draw on this event when someone younger than I am makes a mistake that creates a problem in my life. I would be lying if I said I am always forgiving and gracious. Yet, I remember. Mercy works this way. Fear, sorrow and relief leave an impression on our hearts and it is difficult to seek revenge on others for foolish acts when we know we have been guilty of the same. “Lord, how many times must I forgive?” If we stay stuck on this question we are missing Jesus’ point.