When we were kids, my friends and I competed in a game we called Mercy. We’d clasp hands, then try to bend our opponent’s hands back far enough so that he’d cry out, “Mercy!” Whoever asked for mercy first lost the game.

You might say we had a poor understanding of mercy. In our game it demonstrated strength, power, and tenacity, almost exactly the opposite of what Jesus meant here: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). He didn’t mean we’re merciful when we withhold negative consequences from someone we’ve got control over. His idea of mercy was active, and it’s heavily tinged with compassion.

We see it all around us. I read yesterday about the wife of Tim Hudson, the professional baseball pitcher who fractured his ankle Wednesday night. She sent a message to the player who stepped on Tim’s ankle and thanked him for playing the game the right way. Some people might be bitter over such a gruesome injury and seek to lash out. Instead, she extended compassion to a guy who felt horrible about what he’d done.

Mercy takes all sorts of forms. It’s serving in the soup kitchen downtown or the food pantry at church. It’s dropping by the hospital to sit with a nervous family whose dad is having surgery. It’s reaching out to the young lady in your neighborhood whose husband just left her.

It’s loving your husband when he doesn’t deserve it, forgiving a child for breaking your window, or responding to your neighbor’s irritability with kindness.

It’s buying lunch for the guy behind you in the drive-thru lane and being patient with the new server who messed up your order.

It’s forgiving a person who’s hurt you and refusing to talk badly about someone who’s dragged your name through the mud. It’s caring about someone’s reputation like you do your own, shutting down rumors and gossip when they knock on your door.

Oh, it’s hard, very hard, probably one of the hardest things you’ll do today.

But of course, as with everything God asks of us, he did it first. He didn’t strike back when they hit him, nor did he spit in their faces or trade insults. He did for them what they were unwilling and unable to do for themselves. He offered them mercy.

As we sometimes sing, he could’ve called ten thousand angels . . . but he didn’t.

Why not?

Because we needed mercy, forgiveness, compassion, so he gave it to us.

In some small way, let’s do the same for the people in our world today.

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