Mark 10:46-7, 51-2, NRSV
… a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’…. Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight.…
In preparing this devotional, we were asked what Biblical stories and poems teach about mercy. Today’s lectionary readings give an unsettling answer. The Old Testament lesson shows God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, apparently to show off God’s power by killing the Egyptian first born. (Ex 10:27, 11:4-7, NRSV) The only mercy in the Epistle is that this “affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.” (2 Cor 4: 16-17, NRSV) The Psalms are calls to show “mercy” by destroying Israel’s opponents: “Let…the two-edged swords [be] in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations.” (Ps 149: 6,7 NRSV) Only Mark’s Gospel shows mercy. Even there the message is more about the need for faith.
How can we reconcile these texts with a merciful God? Perhaps the Talmudic scholar Rabbi Tzvi Marx can help. Rabbi Marx says that while the Bible portrays God as constantly intervening and controlling what happens, post-Biblical scholars believe we make God present by our own actions and moral decisions. “Unless we bear witness to God’s presence by our own deeds He is not present.”* Fortunately, Jesus life reminds us that God’s grace will allow us to call upon him and to be confident of his gracious and merciful response.
The message for us may be that we must do our part by striving to be merciful and that, in a way we cannot fully grasp, doing so facilitates God’s gift of mercy. Jesus taught “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matt 5:7 NRSV) May it be so!
Lord, grant us the grace to be merciful to one another so that we help you to display your infinite mercy revealed most clearly in the gift of your Son our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
*This quote and summary come from Thomas L Friedman, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, pp. 368-9