Tolerance or Mercy?
Take a minute and think of the sin that is most shameful or embarrassing to you. It could be something from your past or present, something you have done once, or something that is a more consistent struggle in your life. Whatever it may be, bring it to mind for a moment.
Now imagine two of your friends have just discovered this broken part of you. One reacts with a tolerant smile, but you can tell they are secretly judging you. The other friend, however, looks at you lovingly as if nothing has changed.
"What?" You say.
"Nothing." They respond with a smile. "It's not like I'm surprised that you've sinned and have your struggles."
"You're not embarrassed by me?" You ask.
"Not at all. We're all human; not one of us is perfect. Just know that I'm here for you so you don't have to bear this struggle alone."
These two friends show the difference between tolerance and true mercy. Unfortunately, tolerance too often takes the place of mercy in our lives. Think, for example, of the last time you discovered something embarrassing about another person. How do you treat them now? Do you show them love, or simply a passing smile? For all of us, it has become so easy and so normal to just smile, telling ourselves that this 'tolerance' is love. How quickly these tolerant smiles can turn to gossip with our friends. How quickly they become a 'did you hear what he said?' or a 'did you see what she did?' This isn't truly love and certainly isn't mercy.
Jesus Christ is that loving friend who knows our sins – even our deepest sins – and loves us just the same. He is not surprised by our sin, but instead wants to help us bear the weight of our struggles. This is true mercy; a love that looks on the sinner not with judgement or surprise, but with compassion. It is a love that looks on our sin and brokenness from the cross and says, "I love you still, and this cross is so that you can be free from your suffering."
"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)
As Christians, we are asked to imitate Christ's mercy in our own lives. We are called to be the friend who shows love to others in the face of their sinfulness. This isn’t easy or comfortable. And just as Christ died out of love for us, we will have to suffer deaths of our own to show mercy to others. We may be teased, laughed at, or even gossiped about just for showing love towards someone that everyone else only tolerates.
The call to be merciful is challenging, but it is a challenge we are asked to face to show forth Christ’s infinite love towards everyone. And so, the next time you experience the sin and brokenness of another, don’t simply tolerate them. Instead, act as Christ would and see if by your mercy you can ease their burden and let them know that they are infinitely loved despite their weakness and sin.
Enan Zelinksi | Diocese of Madison Seminarian + Friend of Freshly Brewed