Mercy and the Law
Our perception of mercy changes when we see it in relation to an official moral code. There are, of course, unofficial codes or social mores. For example, the notion of a “mercy killing” suggests we are justified in killing a living being to relieve it of some misery. In the violent venues of war and vigilante justice, an enemy might claim the virtue of mercy by killing his captives quickly instead of subjecting them to torture.
But for mercy to have a sound definition, it must be held against a true standard. When a judge shows mercy in sentencing a convicted criminal his grace is apparent because others know it could have been worse. Therefore, when we talk of God’s mercy, we aren’t tossing out His Law, but rather referring to an act by which the Law is satisfied. Confused? Stick with me.
The Law of God was satisfied when Jesus died at Calvary. He paid our debt of sin, making it possible for us to be justified through faith. Perhaps it has already occurred to you how this free gift is different from an earthly judge who reduces a sentence. God, in His mercy, didn’t just reduce the penalty. Instead, He completely erased it with His Son’s own blood.
This brings us to the heart of Jesus’ Beatitude. We will receive mercy, even as we show mercy, but the mercy we receive from God is greater than anything we could possibly hope to share. To compensate for our weakness, the Spirit of God touches our hearts and moves us to love as He has loved. When Jesus heard the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticize His attendance at Levi’s party, He said, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13). We must learn the meaning of this passage, borrowed from Hosea 6:6, if we hope to exemplify the mercy of God.