Two years ago, I stepped aside from full-time pastoring to focus on a master’s degree. My wife and I moved in with my in-laws, which, as everyone knows, always goes well. Since completing my degree, I volunteer as part of the pastoral team at Eastmont Community Church in East Wenatchee, Washington. It is here that I have come to know Mercy in a very tangible way.
Mercy is irresistible. She has chubby cheeks and huge blue eyes. Everyone wants Mercy. She is 7 months old, weighs 15 pounds and visits me in my office. Mercy Geno is the youngest child of my co-worker, Matt Lambert. Mercy comes with others: Mom (Emily), Dad (Matt) and three brothers: Elijah, Jonah and Asher. She never goes anywhere alone. At 7 months old, this child is completely reliant on others. She is dependent and vulnerable. She has no way to defend herself against others’ actions. When she has a need, she can only cry. It is up to her parents to discover if it is a hunger cry, a diaper cry or a burping cry. Perhaps she simply needs the comfort of a snuggle. As nurturing adults, we would never think about not providing for her. She is undeveloped and incapable. To avoid these responsibilities would be considered neglect.
This is the very picture of mercy — ministering to those who are vulnerable and in need. Mercy is an action taken with the desire to relieve suffering for someone else. But mercy never comes alone. Mercy brings friends like compassion, goodness and justice.
One example from Jesus’ ministry is from Mark 10:46–52. Jesus was with His disciples and a large crowd of people when He heard a blind man call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” While others rebuked and ignored Him, Jesus stopped and invited Bartimaeus to come to Him.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“Rabbi, I want to see,” the blind man answered.
Imagine that experience! Going from blindness to sight to staring into the face of Jesus; immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. Giving mercy to the vulnerable leads to healing that leads to following Jesus.
Eventually, Mercy will grow toward independence. All babies do. They grow out of the need for diapers, begin to consume solid food, and become less dependent on others. In other words, they grow into adulthood. Hopefully, they become healthy, contributing members of society. Although she is small and vulnerable now, her parents hope she will become a dispenser of the grace for which she is named because maturity means realizing that others matter as much or more than we do. Jesus has the same desire for us as disciples. Matthew 16:24 says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Growing as disciples means that we become more and more like our Rabbi, Jesus.
God’s mercy is the driving force of Scripture. We see it in the Garden of Eden when God doesn’t destroy Adam and Eve due to their indiscretion. In the Exodus, we see His mercy through deliverance. In using the prophets, God is showing His people mercy by telling them what is coming if they don’t change their ways. In giving us the Law, He shows us mercy so that we don’t flounder on our own. In forgiveness, we are shown mercy by not getting the punishment we deserve.
In the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24), the initial group of invited people rejected the invitation, and then the host gave instructions to his servants. Notice who they were to invite to the feast:
- Those living in the streets and alleys, which are not a place for the highly esteemed.
- The poor, who are across economic lines.
- The crippled, who are across ability lines and are dependent on others.
- The blind and the lame — vulnerable people who need to be led or carried.
The vulnerable were promoted to a position of honor. For a few hours, they had nothing to worry about except fine food, good drink and celebrating. The vulnerable don’t always exist in the forms of people who are blind, homeless, limited in poverty, or lame. Sometimes, vulnerability is hidden beneath the surface, and we have to pay attention. It is all around us.
One morning, my mother-in-law was in the kitchen cooking bread. I was in my normal morning frame of mind hurrying to get out the door, to jump in a truck that doesn’t easily start, to go to a job that I don’t really have, to review a class that I probably won’t teach again. She was preparing food in advance for us because she was headed over the mountains for a scary health procedure. The Holy Spirit convicted me in that moment that what I thought was important wasn’t. I simply asked her how she was feeling about things. For another 15 minutes, we stood in the kitchen and shared heart-to-heart. Hugs were even exchanged. Comfort was given. Compassion was communicated. Mercy was practiced right there in the kitchen.
Paul Drewer is a Free Methodist elder who serves at Eastmont Community Church in East Wenatchee, Washington. He is an alumnus of Greenville University and Fuller Theological Seminary.