Mercy and Lovingkindness
Some resources for your reflection and meditation.
1. A Sermon on Matthew 18: 21 — 35 Around A.D. 380
See what a good thing it is to be mindful of your own sins. Had this man kept them clearly in remembrance, he would not have been so cruel, so inhuman. Therefore again I say to you, and I shall nor cease from saying it, that it is truly most profitable and most necessary, to keep clearly before us the remembrance of our own offences. For there is nothing makes the soul so truly wise, so truly gentle and compassionate, as the continuous remembrance of our own sins. Because of this Paul also was mindful not only of the sins committed after purification, but also of those committed before baptism; though all had once and for all been wiped out and destroyed. And if he kept in mind the sins he had committed before baptism, much more should we remember them. For, remembering them, we not only wipe them away, but through this practice of humility we grow milder towards all men and begin to serve God with more fervour and good will: coming through this humble remembrance of our own sins, to understand better his ineffable compassion for us.
But this the wicked servant in the parable did not do; but forgetful of the magnitude of his own debt, he also forgets the compassion his lord had shown him. And through this forgetfulness of his compassion, he becomes cruel towards his own fellow-servant. And in his wickness he loses all he had gained through the goodness of God.
By St John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople.
2. Two Jottings On Mercy
And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for all of creation, for men, for birds, for animals and even for demons. At the remembrance and at the sight of them, the merciful man’s eyes fill with tears which arise from the great compassion that urges his heart. It grows tender and cannot endure hearing or seeing any injury or slight sorrow to anything in creation. Because of this, such a man continually offers tearful prayer even for irrational animals and for the enemies of truth and for all who harm it, that they may be guarded and forgiven.
Do you desire to have communion with God in your mind by receiving the perception of that delight which is not subject to the senses? Cleave to mercy. For if (mercy) is found within you, it is formed by that holy beauty which it resembles. All acts of mercy will make the soul a partaker without delay, in the unique glory of the divine rank.
By St Isaac, 7th century Bishop of Nineveh.
3. Trusting God’s Mercy: Entrance into the way of Holiness
“Here I am, Lord, I have neither light nor strength. All my promises and resolutions avail nothing; I can neither make them nor keep them without thee. Do thou take charge of my soul; I abandon it unto thy hands; sanctify it in whatever way shall please thee. I will do nothing in this work but thy orders and under thy direction.”
Thus the saints said, and so they did from the moment when they elected to become saints. If I may so say, they despaired of themselves and put their trust in God alone. If some of these at the outset gave the rein too much to their fervour and ran into pious excesses, they changed their conduct afterwards; they learnt not to give way to their imagination or natural character, to impetuous and intemperate zeal, but to await the impulse of God’s grace; to follow it step by step, and not to press beyond it.
At last they saw by interior light and by experience that their sanctification was the work of God (alone) and not theirs and that the way to advance was simply to second his action and never to impede it.”
On the Love of God, by the French Jesuit Priest John Nicholas Grou, SJ. (18th C. E.)
4. The Path of the Just
Excerpts from the Jewish Classic, by the much esteemed Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto (18th Century C. E. American spelling retained.)
The practice of lovingkindness is of central importance to the Saintly, for “Saintliness” itself derives from “lovingkindness.” And our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avoth 1.2), “The world stands on three things,” one of which is lovingkindness. They have numbered it (Peah 1.1) among those things whose fruits a man eats in this world and whose essence endures for his reward in the World to Come. And they have said (Sotah 14a), “R. Simlai learned, “The Torah begins and ends with lovingkindness.” “Rava learned (Ye vamoth 79a), ‘All who possess these three traits are without question of the seed of our father Abraham mercy, shyness, and lovingkindness.'” R. Eleazar said (Sukkah 49b), “Lovingkindness is greater than charity, as it is said (Hosea 10: 12), ‘Sow for yourselves with charity and reap with lovingkindness’.” “Lovingkindness is greater than charity in three ways: Charity is performed with one’s wealth, and lovingkindness with one’s body; charity is given to the poor, and lovingkindness to rich and poor alike; charity is given only to the living, and lovingkindness to the living and the dead alike.” And (Sizabbad~ 151b), “‘And He will give you mercy and He will have mercy upon you (Deuteronomy 13: 18) — Heaven is merciful to all who have mercy upon their fellow creatures. ” This is self-evident; for since the Holy One Blessed be He pays measure for measure, one who is merciful towards his fellow creatures and treats them with Iovingkindness is deserving of mercy and of absolution of his sins in lovingkindness. As our Sages of blessed memory have said (Rash Hashanah 17a), “Whose sins does He forgive? The sins of one who overlooks an injustice committed against him.” And if one is unwilling to forego his claims or to act with lovingkindness, it follows that he, too, is to be treated only in accordance with strict justice.
Who could abide it if the Holy One Blessed be He acted on the basis of justice alone? King David prayed (Psalms 143: 2), “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no living creature will be found righteous before You.” One who engages in lovingkindness, however, will receive lovingkindness. And he will receive it in proportion to the extent that he engages in it. David exulted in possessing this good trait to the extent that he sought the good even of those who hated him (Ps. 35: 13), “When they were sick, I put on sackcloth; I tortured my soul with fasting;” and (Ps. 7: 5), “If I have paid back those who served me ill…..”
Included in this category of Saintliness is not causing pain to any creature — even animals — and showing mercy and pity towards them. As it is stated (Proverbs 12: 10), “The righteous man knows the soul of his beast.” There are those who hold (Shabbath 128b) that the Torah itself prohibits the causing of pain to animals, but in any event, it is at least a Rabbinical prohibition.
In fine, mercy and beneficence must be enduringly ingrained in the heart of a Saint. His constant aim must be to give pleasure to his fellow creatures and not cause them any pain…
May the Blessed One in His mercy open our eyes to His Torah, teach us His ways, and lead us in His paths; and may we be worthy of honoring His name and bringing pleasure to Him.
“The honor of God will endure forever; God will be happy in His works”
(Psalms 104: 31).
“Let Israel be happy in its Maker, the sons of Zion rejoice in their King”
(Psalms 149: 2). Amen. Amen. Amen.
5. From Matthew, by John P. Meier
The loving Father will condemn us to eternal punishment if we do not lovingly forgive one another (Compare 6: 12, 14 to 15). Why? Because, although the Father has already forgiven each member of his family, the church, his forgiveness remains conditional and can be revoked at the last judgment, if we have not shared the forgiveness we received with one another. We cannot earn God’s forgiveness, but we can lose it — by trying to hoard it instead of passing it on to others. A person who does not forgive others shows he has not really experienced God’s forgiveness; otherwise, it would overflow to others. True sons naturally show their resemblance to their Father by acting like him, by forgiving like him — simply out of compassion, with no question of merit. (Compare 5: 43 — 45). And the forgiveness must not be grudging or pretended; it must be sincere and effective — “from your heart,” the center of the person.
(Veritas Publications, Dublin. 1980.)
American spelling retained.
A Brief Comment
Notice the focus Fr. Meier places on key aspects of our Lord’s teaching.
• The Church as God’s family, His Household.
• The Last Judgment hovering in the background;
• Forgiveness being a gift from God — a gift which will
evaporate unless we pass it on to others.
• If we cannot or do not forgive others, we simply cannot
have truly experienced (accepted) God’s forgiveness.
• Our acts of forgiving must flow from the heart — the centre
of our being.
• We cannot earn the mercy of God — but must accept it as
pure gift: likewise, paradoxically, if we do not humbly accept
it from God, and pass it on, it will evaporate, and we will
become cold, heartless and spiritually dead!
6. J. C. Ryle Matthew 18: 21 — 35
In these verses the Lord Jesus deals with a deeply important subject, — the forgiveness of injuries. We live in a wicked world, and it is vain to expect that we can escape ill-treatment, however carefully we may behave. To know how to conduct ourselves, when we are ill-treated, is of great moment to our souls.
In the first place, the Lord Jesus lays it down as a general rule, that we ought to forgive others to the uttermost. Peter put the question, “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? till seven times?” He received for answer, “I say not unto thee till seven times, but until seventy times seven.”
The rule here laid down must of course be interpreted with sober-minded qualification. Our Lord does not mean that offences against the law of the land and the good order of society are to be passed over in silence. He does not mean that we are to allow people to commit thefts and assaults with impunity. All that He means is, that we are to study a general spirit of mercy and forgivingness towards our brethren. ‘We are to bear much, and to put up with much, rather than quarrel. We are to overlook much, and submit to much, rather than have any strife. We are to lay aside everything like malice, revenge, and retaliation…..they are utterly unworthy of a disciple of Christ.’…..
It is clear from this parable that one motive for forgiving others ought to be the recollection that we all need forgiveness at God’s hands ourselves. Day after day we are coming short in many things, “leaving undone what we ought to do, and doing what we ought not to do” Day after day we require mercy and pardon. Our neighbours’ offences against us are mere trifles, compared with our offences against God. Surely it ill becomes poor erring creatures like us to be extreme in marking what is done amiss by our brethren, or slow to forgive it.
Another motive for forgiving others ought to be the recollection of the day of judgment, and the standard by which we shall all be tried in that day. There will be no forgiveness in that day for unforgiving people. Such people would be unfit for heaven. They would not be able to value a dwelling-place to which “mercy” is the only title, and in which “mercy” is the eternal subject of song. Surely if we mean to stand at the right hand, when Jesus sits on the throne of His glory, we must learn, while we are on earth, to forgive.
7. Mercy and Lovingkindess
1. From: An Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words by W. Vine (1940).
ELEOS is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it. It is used:—
(a) of God, who is rich in mercy, Eph. 2: 4, and who has provided salvation for all men, Tit. 3: 5, for Jews, Luke 1: 72, and Gentiles, Rom. 15: 9. He is merciful to those who fear him, Luke 1: 50, for they also are compassed with infirmity, and He alone can succour them. Hence they are to pray boldly for mercy, Heb. 4: 16, and if for themselves, it is seemly that they should ask for mercy for one another, Gal. 6: 16; 1Tim. 1: 2. When God brings His salvation to its issue at the Coming of Christ, His people will obtain His mercy, 2 Tim. 1: 16; Jude 21;
(b) of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another, Matt. 9: 13; 12: 7; 23: 23; Luke 10: 37; Jas. 2: 13.
2. Hesed (Chasid or Chesed)
From: Synonyms of the Old Testament by R. Girdlestone (1897).
Nevertheless, the two aspects of mercy, its reception and its exercise, are wonderfully blended in Scripture. The right and wholesome effect of the enjoyment of God’s lovingkindness is the exhibition of the same spirit towards our fellows. God is everywhere described as delighting in mercy — ‘his mercy endureth for ever’ — but He requires that those to whom He shows it should, in their turn and according to their opportunities, ‘love mercy;’ compare Micah 7: 18 with 6: 8.
It is a remarkable fact that the word Chasid, when applied to man, has usually a possessive pronoun affixed to it, so as to indicate that the persons who are exercising this disposition belong in a special sense to God. They are ‘his merciful ones’ (A. V. ‘his saints ‘). Merciful men may be very scarce (Ps. 12: 1; Micah 7: 2), but wherever they are found they are regarded as God’s own. ‘He hath set apart him that is merciful for himself’ (Ps. 4: 3); and He gives His special protection to those that are worthy of the name Chasid (Ps. 32: 6; 37: 28). They show their love to the Lord by hating evil (i.e. evil dealings against their neighbour), and the Lord, in His turn, preserves their souls (Ps. 97: 10). When He comes to judgment He will gather to Himself those who are His merciful ones, and who have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice (Ps. 50: 5), and they shall not only ‘rejoice in glory’ (Ps. 149: 5), but also shall have the honour of executing judgment on the nations. (Ps. 149: 9).
In a word, mercy is the main characteristic of God’s dealings with man, and hence it is to be looked for as the distinguishing mark of every child of God. ‘He that loveth is born of God.’ The ‘godly’ are those who, having received mercy from Him, are exercising it for Him and as His representatives.