Friday, June 4, 2010

The Might of Mercy

"Magdalen" by Murillo
Schindler's List is my favorite movie. I know; I think I'm weird, too. Be that as it may. In the movie, there is a scene in which Oskar Schindler tells Nazi Commandant Amon Goth a story to explain what he calls "real power."

"Power is when we have every justification to kill...and we don't."

"You think that's power?" the drunken Amon asks dubiously.

"That's what the emperors had," Schindler continues. "A man stole something, he's brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for mercy, he knows he's going to die. And the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.... That's power, Amon. That is power."

The Church today has a lot to say about the mercy and the grace of God--and well it should! But, sometimes I wonder if we have forgotten the awesome might of this mercy. For God is not only merciful; He is also powerful. In fact, it is precisely because of His great power that His mercy is so incredible.

If we deserved mercy or if we did not need it, it would not be mercy at all. Sadly, this is how some people within the Church would like to peddle mercy. It is more politically correct; it is certainly more comfortable. One thing it is not is mercy.

Mercy, to be mercy, must be undeserved. We must realize that we are the "worthless man" before the Emperor. We must recognize our own sin--not our "shortcomings" or "weaknesses" or "fall-outs from our difficult childhoods" or any other euphemism--our SIN. It is a good thing to recognize that we are sinners. It does not make us downtrodden or repressed or neurotic. It frees us. Because it is truth. And, only when we recognize the depth and weight of our own sin can we truly throw ourselves before the throne of God. And, it is only on our knees that we will know MERCY.

Mercy will lift us up and wash us clean and make us totally new.

Not because we deserve it.
Not because that's what God has to do when we throw ourselves on our knees.
Not because God must grant us mercy.
Not because God "accepts" our sin or does not call it sin.
Not because mercy can be earned through contrition.

Grace is not cheap.
Grace cannot be bought--cheaply or otherwise.
It is a gift.

A mighty gift.

Jesus understood this. When He told us to turn the other cheek. When He walked to Calvary in silence. When He forgave those who betrayed and beat Him. When He was crucified. When He took a contrite, broken traitor named Peter and accepted his love and gave him a great Commission. Jesus knew that submission is not weakness, for submission, like mercy, can never be forced. If it is, it is not submission. It is oppression. Likewise, mercy that is not a choice is no mercy. It is justice. Or it is a demonstration of disdain or neglect.

But mercy...real mercy is powerful.
Mercy is what we need because justice would destroy us.

Let us remember that we are the "worthless man." Yes, worthless. Only in light of this will we know the rapturous joy of the centurion soldier who said, "I am not worthy--but only say the word!" (Matthew 8:8). Only by recognizing ourselves as sinners in the Presence of Holiness can we know what mercy is. That is power. That is beauty. That is grace.


  1. What a beautiful, awesome, inspiring post. Thank you, Bethany!


  2. Yay! I loved this! This is what I believe about mercy and grace, and the view of "sloppy agape" can be so frustrating at times.

    The Schindler's List reference is so apt!

    "Only by recognizing ourselves as sinners in the Presence of Holiness can we know what mercy is."--AMEN!

  3. Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today.

    Love you!


  4. God bless you. Only him knows all the help I have received from this post.
    Thank you very much.
    María Gutiérrez
    Alicante (Spain)


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