God loves mercy. It is one of the attributes of his character. He shows us mercy every day. However, God wants to see us show mercy to others. When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were critical of him because he shared the company of sinners, he responded with these words, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt 9:13). Jesus was quoting the prophet Hosea who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet was telling the people that offering God sacrifices and burnt offerings by themselves without a life of mercy was meaningless to God.
These religious leaders were so threatened by Jesus’ ministry that they dogged Jesus’ every move. Luke explains that on one Sabbath as Jesus entered the synagogue, there was a man with a shriveled hand. The Pharisees were carefully watching to make sure he did not heal this man on the Sabbath and thus work on the Sabbath which would break the fourth commandment (Luke 6:6-8).
Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he confronted their thoughts by asking them, “which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" (Luke 6:9). Jesus did this as he had the man with the paralyzed hand stand in front of everyone. In other words, if we see a person in need and have the means to help them and refuse, we have just done evil. To stand by and watch a life be destroyed is to be complicit to that death. This is undoubtedly a strong argument against abortion and assisted suicide. But, it’s more than that, it is about showing mercy when we have an opportunity to do so.
Jesus healed the man in front of everyone. Everyone was astounded! Well everyone but the Pharisees that is. One would think that this miracle would have been all the proof the Pharisees needed to believe in the authenticity of Jesus, but no it wasn’t. Luke says, “But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:11).
Today Christians are often labeled as intolerant, but is that really true?
Kent Hughes writes:
Does Christianity really make a difference? Is there a difference between card-carrying, Bible-believing Christians and their culture in situations needing mercy? According to some pollsters and social commentators, Christians are prime candidates for intolerance. However, this was statistically put to the test in 1983 in a book entitled The Religious Factor in Australian Life. Part of the survey asked people about their attitudes toward various groups - people with criminal records, emotionally unstable people, people of a different race, members of minority religions, students, people in sects or cults, left-wing extremists, immigrants/foreign workers, never-married mothers, unemployed persons, heavy drinkers, aborigines, people with large families, homosexuals.
The answers were analyzed according to various religious groupings, and an "index of tolerance" was created. Can you guess who was most tolerant? Not liberals, not Catholics, not evangelicals, but conservative fundamentalists, by a significant margin. Those with no religion came in last' So much for the pundits.[i]
True faith demonstrates mercy. It did when William Wilberforce was the single most powerful voice in stopping slavery in England, and his life had a great influence on Abraham Lincoln. That same faith was instrumental in protecting children and elevating women. It is that same faith that works to protect the unborn and find places for those children who need a safe home. There are so many needs, and if we want to be like Jesus, then we will show mercy to those in need.