“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matt 23:23). The final use of ‘pistis/faith’ in Matthew is worthy of continuous attention. Just a single verse of scripture out of the mouth of Jesus is so important that it is difficult to pass on by. We have considered the ‘justice’ theme;— turn now to the weightier matter of mercy.
In the Old Testament, ‘hesed/mercy’, steadfast love is directly related to covenant. Described most often as an emotion or an attitude, mercy arises out of a mutual relationship. It is expected of one from the other. ‘Hesed’ is what gives security to men in their dealings one to another. It is pledged by one to the other.
The righteous can boast of ‘God’s hesed’. Mercy, which God has promised, cannot be claimed, but one may certainly expect it. In covenant relationship of trust, and faithfulness, mercy is the appropriate attitude. It is of major concern for God in the voice of the prophets. “For I desire hesed, and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6). Martin King made the Micah 6:8 reference: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
I came to know New York City as a place where you must be ‘In a New York State Of Mind’ in order to survive it’s merciless mistreatment of strangers. A part of that ‘NY mind’ is to be geared against ‘theft of person’ on a daily basis. Having had four wallets stolen from my purses, I am keenly aware of how personal belongings must be secured. Outside of the city, you can let your purse sit in the shopping cart at the supermarket, walk around with your purse open with items exposed, but the minute you cross a bridge or through a tunnel into The City everything must change in a town where as a way of life, there is no mercy!
In the language of later Judaism, mercy and grace are used interchangeably.His mercy is gracious action.He reveals it.It is expected, hoped for, prayed for.In classical, philosophical Greek, ‘eleos/mercy’ is the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else.Mercy is evoked, specifically, when the other is in trouble. Typical that the emotion of ‘eleos’ plays a great part in the administration of justice. The accused must seek to arouse the ‘eleos’ of the judge.
I try with the new songs of worship. But the old Hymns say so much. “Years I spent in vanity and pride.Caring not my Lord was crucified. Knowing not it was for me he died… On Calvary. Mercy there was great and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.”
In the New Testament, ‘eleos/mercy’ is often used for the divinely required attitude of man to man.Kindness which we owe one another in mutual relationships.God’s mercy is now thought of as preceding man’s. Elsewhere, mercy is concerned for the eternal welfare of others. Howard Thurman talks of the merciful act as an opportunity that you have to ‘take advantage’ of someone but you chose not to.Jesus in the ‘Sermon On The Mount’s Beatitudes’ says, you are blessed in this choice and that mercy is now promised to you.
In these times of National Crisis: “Come ye Disconsolate, wherever ye languish. Come to the Mercy Seat, fervently kneel.Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish, Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal. ”As a ‘weighter’ matter of the law, Jesus is here calling for attention to ‘mercy’.
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