But I Need Definition!
It is one thing to say we should not quantify and qualify mercy, but much harder to avoid the practice. After all, everything needs definition or structure, and mercy is no different. How else do we know when we have shown it, or not?
At the risk of relying too heavily on the parable of the two servants, I am convinced the answer can be found there. Just as the first servant’s compartmentalizing shows us how we separate grace received from grace shown, the actions of the king provide the positive alternative. I believe the key rests in the fact the first servant’s debt was so great it could not possibly have been forgiven.
I have tried to formulate scenarios in which a servant could have racked up a debt of 10,000 talents. The only one I find plausible is something similar to George Bailey’s unfortunate circumstances in the Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”, where his bookkeeper lost a large deposit and brought his business to the brink of disaster. Perhaps the servant was in charge of the king’s treasury and allowed it to fall into the hands of thieves. But an amount in the billions of dollars would be an epic heist, and it is doubtful that much money would be entrusted to one servant.
Instead, I find this principle: The quantity lost by the servant was unfathomable and the quality of the king’s mercy was unconditional. Therefore, the mercy we show others should extend to wrongs that cannot possibly be paid back and our kindness should reflect the absolute grace of God. This makes Jesus’ mercy Beatitude less of an equation and more of an attachment to God’s heart. Luke reveals this truth in his record of Jesus’ words, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36 NIV).”
This is the final and ultimate definition. The only way to truly be merciful is to study the mercy of God and emulate Him. We will never do this perfectly, but at least we have a principle that can be learned. If we want to show more mercy we must learn more about God’s mercy. This is the mistake the first servant made. He failed to learn from the king, compartmentalized his life, and as a result lost his opportunity to change his world. We have the opportunity to choose a better way.