“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Day 11: Matthew 5:7
Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!
To be merciful is to offer amnesty as opposed to demanding justice. It is about extending forgiveness instead of imposing punishment.
In Jesus’ time the Jews believed that God was merciful as long as they obeyed the Law of Moses. They believed if they sinned and then offered the atoning sacrifices prescribed by the Law that God would be merciful to them and that he would forgive them. That was the purpose of the Law – to establish social order and make God happy.
In the beatitudes Jesus introduces a new concept: God’s mercy is extended not just in response to our obedience to the Law of Moses; it is also dependent on the degree to which we become imitators of God and extend mercy to others. Jesus is saying that the way we treat others directly affects the way that God treats us.
Be merciful to others because God has been merciful to you. Forgive as you have been forgiven. What goes around comes around. You give as good as you get. The love you take is equal to the love you make. Basically, this is the same as the Buddhist concept of karma. It’s a universal truth.
The Amish are one of the few Christian groups that are fully committed to the spiritual discipline of forgiveness. In 2006 gunman Charles Carl Roberts came into an Amish schoolhouse and shot ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide.
The Amish response was quick and decisive. Hours after the shooting the community gathered together, went to the family of the gunman, and offered forgiveness and comfort. Their actions were based on their deeply held belief that as Christians this was the only appropriate response. In fact, they stated that this response was imperative. Here’s a description from Wikipedia:
On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.” Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.
Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.” The Amish do not normally accept charity, but due to the extreme nature of the tragedy, donations were accepted. Richie Lauer, director of the Anabaptist Foundation, said the Amish community, whose religious beliefs prohibit them from having health insurance, will likely use the donations to help pay the medical costs of the hospitalized children.
Some commentators criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil, while others were supportive. Donald Kraybill and two other scholars of Amish life noted that “letting go of grudges” is a deeply rooted value in Amish culture, which remembers forgiving martyrs including Dirk Willems and Jesus himself. They explained that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward a future that is more hopeful.
Is this what I would do if someone murdered my child? I know that the Amish were right and that this is exactly what God wants us to do. It was a tremendous act of faith for them to live out their faith in this way, and an awesome witness to the rest of the world. I honestly have to say that I couldn’t do what they did. I have to ask myself why. And then I’m pretty sad. I still have a long way to go. But I’m encouraged by the actions of the Amish and very grateful that they responded the way that they did. It gives me a lot of hope.
What does this scripture say to you?