sharper focus “Do mercy!”
By Kelly Pontsler, Major
Is mercy out of date?
While you ponder that question, let me throw this fact at you: This summer we logged well over 14,000 volunteer hours in the San Francisco Metro area. It would take one person (working a standard 40-hour week) seven years to log that amount of time on the job. Think about it, seven years’ worth of work accomplished in just three months’ time. Incredible!
Even more interesting is the variety of people represented in that volunteer corps—some younger, some older; some were students, some corporate professionals. Some share our Christian faith, others do not; some had volunteered many times before and others walked in our door for the very first time. Some spent a couple of hours, some spent a whole day, but every one of those 2,450 volunteers signed up and showed up because they wanted to do something for the greater good of the community.
Mercy is the compassionate treatment of those in distress. It’s an act of kindness toward those who are in need, even when it seems least deserved. It shows up in the Bible as hesed. One definition of that Old Testament Hebrew concept is this, “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” In the New Testament it appears as grace or mercy. It’s a small word with huge significance.
I am studying my way through the Gospel of Luke again, using a recent book by the Christian recording artist and Bible scholar Michael Card (Luke: The Gospel of Amazement). Repeatedly throughout the commentary this simple thought stands out and it has caught my attention: Hesed is something you do. You would recognize it if you saw it. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).
“The wounded man on the ground has no right to expect anything from a no-good Samaritan, behold he receives over-the-top mercy: first aid, a donkey ride to the hotel, room and board, and the promise that the Samaritan will be back to check on him. And when Jesus forces the legal expert who called for the story in the first place to decide who his neighbor is after all, he is forced to mumble, ‘The one who showed mercy’ (Luke 10:37).”
Then Jesus told him to go and do the same.
Do mercy. The dictionary describes mercy as a noun; perhaps it’s time we made it a verb. When was the last time you or I “did” mercy’? When was the last time we committed any act (much less an over-the-top act) of kindness for a person in need, just because we could?
In many instances the volunteers helping us through the summer had limited interaction with the children and adults who are the beneficiaries of the Army’s family and social services in the city. Their tasks were practical in nature: rolling paint onto walls, planting gardens, stocking shelves and prepping materials for future events. But I tell you—those volunteers have been without a doubt a band of mercy deliverers! I know we don’t use the title “League of Mercy” any more to describe our compassion in action ministry on a corps level, but I wonder if maybe we should?
Is mercy out of date? Make it a verb, sign up and show up, and I think you’ll find the answer! I have.