Australian evangelist JOHN SMITH reminds us that justice and mercy go together in the heart of Jesus - the Good Samaritan.

John Smith
John Smith

Without God, we are wild beasts, without His grace, every one of us is intent on clawing our way to our own comfort. Even Christians. When somebody else is in the position you want to be in, when your own advantage is at the forefront of your mind, you will be like anyone else - unless God does a miracle of mercy in your life.

"How arid we human beings are when the Holy Spirit is not in us," said Archbishop Oscar Romero. "How cruel people become when they are not animated by God's Spirit but by the spirit of getting on in the world." It's no good saying, "mercy's a great idea, the world would be a much better place if it was merciful." Mercy can only happen if we know God.

The reason is that God Himself is rich in mercy towards us. He comes to us while we are still His enemies. He shows mercy not because we deserve it but because it is the nature of God to be merciful. His heart is merciful, and therefore His dealings with us are marked by mercy.

I experienced God's merciful heart in contrast to the hardness of the human heart when I visited the place where they claim Jesus sweated great drops of blood.

I had suffered agonising back pain for a long time. As I prayed in this beautiful chapel in Gethsemane, all history flashed before me. I saw Genghis Khan's horsemen cutting people down, Mao Tse Tung wiping out millions, the American government supporting dictators such as Chile's Pinochet prepared to torture and destroy ordinary citizens almost en masse. And then I saw my own sin. I just dropped to my knees, and wept and wept for about 20 minutes.

When I got up the pain was totally gone and has not returned. That God's native love should be extended to violent humanity astounds me. God is just. He hates human wickedness, but beyond His justice lies His mercy. The ancient Greek Stoic philosophers believed that mercy was a weakness. A judge who showed mercy was considered to have introduced a moral weakness into the legal system.

Fortunately, God is not a stoical judge. He says, "plead with me; my heart is tender towards you." In fact judgement and mercy belong together. Mercy is the difference between Christian and Marxist social action. Both are committed to justice, but only the Christian is committed to mercy.

God is not neutral. He is biased towards the poor and the oppressed. The merciful person is not neutral, either, but feels with those who suffer. But mercy is more than a feeling. Gods mercy is a mercy that drives his Son to a cross to do something about sin, and therefore demands that we also do something about our sinfulness.

As someone has said, reconciliation is the other side of justice, but without mercy only judgement is possible.

Jesus told stories to teach about mercy. In the Good Samaritan story, Jesus tells us that to be a neighbour is to be totally vulnerable to another's need. If your definition of 'neighbour' is 'someone like me' - as the Pharisees' was - you can 'love' your neighbour and still be a racist.

That story was a foreshadowing: Jesus is the Good Samaritan, irrespective of our culture, sinfulness, nakedness and poverty. Jesus loves us, picks us up from the middle of the road and heals us. Having done it for us he now challenges us: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

In the parable of the unforgiving servant Jesus spoke of a man whose huge debt of 10,000 talents was cancelled. He then went out and grabbed his fellow servant round the neck and said, "pay me what you owe me." This debt was comparatively trifling, a mere hundred denaris. When their master heard about it he turned the first servant over to the jailers until he paid back everything.

The parable ends with Jesus saying: "this is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brothers from the heart" (Matthew 18:35). In other words, "you have received mercy, therefore show mercy." Tragically, we Christians have become sloppily humanistic. Sometimes we are devoid of both justice and mercy, We must learn again to move with the pulse of God's love.

Jesus the Good Samaritan comes to us, beaten, broken, and stripped as we are. Yet we ourselves beat and break and strip others. Deep in our hearts we know our unjust and merciless moments - against our children, our spouses, our mums and dads, our mates and colleagues. We need a deep conversation. We need to cry out to God: "Lord, make me a child of mercy." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.