February 15, 2011
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Two children are standing face-to-face, fingers interlocked with one another. One of them is much bigger, a 5th grade, while the other child is in 2nd grade. “Go!” older kid yells. Immediately they each forcefully push back on the other’s hand, purposefully trying to inflict pain. The 5th grader is much stronger. The younger kid’s hands are bending backwards, straining the ligaments in his wrist. He shuts his eyes and his face starts to wrinkle up; you squirm just imagining the pain. Soon enough, the 1st grader cries out “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!” The older kid slowly loosens his grip, and they release hands.
It’s not easy for most people to plead for mercy. It takes a lot of strength to muster your ability to admit you can’t handle something any longer. Whether it’s a due date at school, coming in late at work, or standing in a courtroom. Let’s be honest, most of us would much rather beg for mercy than for justice – what we actually deserve. However showing mercy is equally, if not harder, to do. It does not require wealth, ability, or intelligence. It simply requires a caring and empathetic heart.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, mercy originated from the French word, merci, meaning ‘to thank’. In the Latin language it is miserere, to have pity. According to James P. Holding on, “Today "mercy" usually means that we cease to deliver a punishment that is justly deserved; or it means refraining from dishing out pain and punishment generally, usually out of pity.” However, the Biblical context of mercy differs slightly. In the “Christian faith, mercy means the giving of grace to people who don't deserve it, or showing compassion to someone you have power or authority over,” says Robert Longman Jr., famed for writing Pentecost. Just as these definitions vary, so do people and experiences.
To me, mercy is understanding. In the Bible Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of a blind man sitting on the side of the road. He was considered beneath everyone due to his handicap, therefore no one conversed with him. However, when Jesus was walking down the street, the man called out to Him, asking to have mercy. Everyone told him to get away, but Jesus knew his pain and called him over. Jesus performed a miracle and let him see, and he received mercy even though he hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Mercy causes you to feel the suffering of another and wanting to relieve it. It is knowing what someone is going through and looking beyond their fault. It is gazing into the future: just hoping your act of kindness has made a difference. In an article for the Toronto Star, journalist, Richard J. Brennan, covers a story on a ‘mercy killing’. Captain Robert Semrau was relieved of his services for shooting a seriously injured Taliban fighter nearing death. "I prefer to see it as a mercy killing ... it was the right thing to do rather than leave someone suffering," military historian, Jack Granatstein said. Whether you agree with his actions or not, Captain Semrau believed he was performing an act of mercy.
Mercy keeps no record of wrongs for it is shown out of unconditional love. Longman says, “Mercy is grace's effect on justice. It is rooted in love: God shows mercy because God loves us and forgives us… Jesus' act of loving mercy stands behind the entire Christian faith.” True love doesn’t tally up mistakes and successes; therefore neither does mercy.
Imagine yourself as the sun. Clouds cover the whole sky and rain drenches the people walking on the sidewalk. You decide it is time stop the downpour and shine brightly through the clouds, breaking them apart until they are out of sight. People look up, thankful for a clear sky. Because of you a rainbow appears – a sign of promise for the future. You have shown mercy.
Mercy is compassion. It is knowing someone is not worthy, yet still be willing to try to forgive what they have done. Mercy is trying to forgive and trying to forget. But Mercy is not forgiveness. Many may think that mercy and forgiveness are synonymous – this is false. To forgive is to not have any negative feelings towards someone who has hurt you. However, to show mercy is to be sympathetic towards someone who has hurt you – bitterness, anger, or hate may still be harbored.
Mercy is not forgiveness; it is a step towards it. It is a step towards the future. It is a step out of the all consuming darkness. There are many people who live in this darkness. Those who are malicious people, along with those who are seemingly nice people. They may outwardly act completely different, but they have one thing in common: they do not care about the well-being of others. However, once they decide to show mercy they start entering the light. Realizing, consciously or unconsciously, what a great impact it can have, they show it more often. These acts can create a ripple effect, affecting people everywhere. In Abraham Lincoln’s last speech in 1865 he was trying to prepare the United States for life after the Civil War and said, "I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."
Everyone should be merciful; because everyone makes mistakes; because no one is perfect. No one can claim they have never made a poor decision. No one can suggest they have never shown bad judgment. No one can say they have never wished for mercy. Therefore mercy should be freely given and freely received.
Those who show mercy will also receive it: because there comes a point in everyone’s life when you need to be granted a little mercy to keep chugging along. Everyone needs some mercy. A poor man begs for mercy from his wallet, a lonely man begs for mercy from his past, a criminal from his conscience, a busy man from time, a sick man from death.
Mercy is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Just as your mouth is dry from the arid air, and you feel lightheaded from the intense heat, you spot a little pool of cold, fresh, blue water. Untouched, unharmed; it calls you. The sun glistens off of it and you feel hope again. Hope that you will survive. The desert has graciously shown mercy on you.
True mercy is done out of the kindness of the heart. “Mercy is not simply the withholding of punishment, but it is the act of giving help or having compassion on someone who is afflicted,” according to editor, Tom Stewart. Mercy asks for nothing in return. Yet those who show it feel an intrinsic reward that drives them to keep taking those steps forward.
To me mercy is humility; Mercy is grace; Mercy is love.

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