Mercy comes in many forms.
This past Friday, Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks waived sixth round draft pick offensive tackle Garrett Scott. Now, I know that not everyone here is a football fan so let me explain a little further. The NFL draft is kind of like a big lottery. Based on a variety of factors, including their record of wins and losses from the previous year, each team gets a number of chances to acquire up-and-coming college football players. So, the Seattle Seahawks, recognizing that they could use a player at the offensive tackle position, chose Garrett Scott from Marshall College to fill that role. But then, only a few weeks later, they cut him from the team.
That in itself is not all that unusual. It happens. Teams realize that the person they’ve drafted isn’t really the best fit. The case of Garrett Scott is noteworthy because the team didn’t just turn him down and say “thanks, but no thanks.” The Seattle Seahawks actually signed Garrett Scott and then waived him from the team. That means that he will still receive a signing bonus and his first year’s salary totaling about a half a million dollars.
Why would the Seahawks pay a player who never even stepped foot on the field? A physical examination by the team following the draft revealed that Garrett suffered from a rare heart condition that will keep him from playing football. The team had no obligation to keep him or to pay him but, instead, they chose a small act of mercy by deciding to support him as he determines the next steps in his journey.
As we continue our discussion on the section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes, we focus today on the word “mercy.” Like so many other words that we encounter in our scriptures, mercy can be understood in many different ways.
Often when I think of mercy, it’s in the context of a real power imbalance: Someone who has a great amount of power bestows mercy on someone with less. Perhaps it’s the government showing mercy to a prisoner by commuting his prison sentence or God showing us mercy by forgiving our sins and giving us another chance at life.
Sometimes, I think of mercy as pity, like when I see a homeless man on the street and give him the spare change in my pocket, as I try to show mercy even if I’m really just trying to lessen my guilt and my relief that it’s not me on the street.
Mercy has a wide range of meaning, everything from forgiving sins to healing the sick. But when Jesus talks about mercy, “Active compassion” would probably be a better way to put it. The merciful are not only sorry at the suffering of others, but actively try to alleviate it.
Jesus’ followers, including us, should be able to show mercy not because we are perfect people but because we have been shown mercy. Have you had anyone in your life that helped you be the person you are now? Have you had friends who were there for you at your lowest moments, relatives who supported you when you were low on funds, or others who remained at your side when no one else would? How many mistakes have we made in our lives, yet God still shows us mercy and gives us chance after chance to try harder to be better people? It’s because we’ve received God’s mercy that we are called to be merciful.
For many years Dobri Dobrev would walk several miles to the Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky in Sofia Bulgaria where he would spend the day sitting on the steps of the church with a small wooden box next to him. As people dropped money into the box he would kiss their hand and talk with them about God. In recent years, the man known as “Elder” or “Grandpa” Dobri has had to forego the walk; it’s becoming more difficult as he approaches his 100th birthday this year. He takes the tram now but still continues to spend his day at the church and to collect money. Dobri has been known in the village for years, recognized for his kind smile and genuine expressions of gratitude towards his donors. It was only recently that it was discovered that Dobri has given away every penny he has collected – about $50,000 – towards the restoration of decaying Bulgarian monasteries and churches and the utility bills of orphanages, as he continues to live entirely off his monthly state pension of about $100 a month and the kindness of others.
Dobri’s mercy is reflected in his kind eyes and gentle smile. His understanding of following Jesus is to give back what he has received.
Mercy isn’t only shown through money, of course. Mercy is shown in the kindness, the love, the acceptance that we show others every day. Sometimes, the most radical thing we can do for a fellow child of God is to have a genuine conversation with her.
Unfortunately, we live in a society where disagreement and debates often get more attention in the press than agreement and understanding. Our national media seem to spend the majority of their 24 hour news cycle highlighting political differences and allowing talking heads to shout out their argument instead of engaging in reasoned debate to try and solve problems. Instead of seeking to working together, politicians seem more interested in simply winning the fight.
And that way of thinking seems to permeate our whole culture. In local politics, on the internet, and even in face to face conversations, we’ve become too focused on our own point of view and we forget to open our ears, and our minds, and our hearts to another. We can be merciful by being genuinely curious about someone else way of thinking.
What better place can we come to practice our faith and learn how to speak the truth in love to each other than at church? When we choose to gather here, as God’s community, we can reflect God’s mercy towards us by engaging in intentional conversations, actively listening to what our neighbor’s have to say, and maybe even loving someone with whom we disagree.
Mercy comes in many forms. God’s mercy has been shown to each of us in many ways. We may not be able to be merciful through providing a half a million dollar salary to a young man with a heart condition like the Seahawks or by collecting money for charity on the streets of Bulgaria like Grandpa Dobri but we can reflect God’s mercy in every word we speak and every conversation we have.
Let’s pray: Dear God, help us to see your mercy in every moment of our lives. As we strive to follow Jesus, grant us the gift of your Spirit so that we can be merciful with everyone we meet. Amen.