mercy: (n) to show compassion, and offer forgiveness, to someone who has offended or wronged you
I started this series on empathy, with an assertion that for God to become human in the person of Jesus, they would experience life as we humans do. I have outlined three forms of experience, for which we can easily find examples of Jesus experiencing throughout the Christian gospel scriptures.
Jesus certainly felt emotions. As a child he was curious enough to wander off to the synagogue to engage with the elders. Jesus possessed knowledge about the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies which he claimed that he came not to eliminate, but to fulfill. He left the crowds, whether to cross lakes or spend time in the desert to contemplate. He held beliefs about healing. He acted with passion to raise the dead and challenge the money changers and merchants who set up in the temple. Sounds pretty human to me.
And, he forgave sins. He displayed mercy.
Jesus had empathy for the many different people whom he encountered. He could comprehend how they felt, what the knew, and what they believed. And, he could use this understanding to ask questions, to provoke people to set aside their own experiences to connect with someone else.
When someone could empathize with someone else, they might become the Good Samaritan. They might become fishers-of-men. They might go out without the least provision and enter a town and find a sympathetic family to stay with in order to bring the message of The Way to new communities. They might kneel down to wash someone else’s feet.
Mercy occurs when we have authority and right to judge others. But, we instead empathize with them, try to understand their human experiences, not to justify wrong actions, but to forgive them for those offenses.
“Forgive my sins, as I forgive those who have sinned against me”. Mercy.
Let us return to the question that originated this series of posts. If you remember the guest editorial in the local news paper asked “how do evangelical Christians get their reputation back after supporting the most debauched president in history?”. I responded with a letter-to-the editor about forgiveness.
If evangelical Christians have supported a godless leader, they can recognize this, repent, and not continue to support him, the ideas he promoted, and actions that he encouraged. Of course, we can bear the burden of their sin with the continued chaos of our social, civil, and governmental relationships.
So far, the reports that I have heard, at least a hard-core group of evangelical Christians believe that they are right and Mr. Trump is/was acting according to God’s plan. How can we empathize with each other.
Let’s start with the experience of watching a series of movies, titled, “Left Behind” which were released around 2000 to 2005. While writing this set of posts, I recalled the movies and binge-watched them one weekend while The Mrs. was off visiting her family.
The basic plot line is based on the evangelical Christian interpretation of various texts in the Christian scriptures, such as Jesus’ comments about the Kingdom of Heaven coming soon, or Paul’s calls to vigilance for the return of Jesus, and of course John’s book of Revelation. These are generally grouped under the concept of End Times theology and prophecies.
Should I sit down with an evangelical Christian friend to watch one of these movies, we would probably have different emotional responses, profess different facts and data regarding scriptural interpretation and prophecies, and hold different beliefs about “end times”. As I cannot force empathy or mercy out of someone else, I must offer them instead.
If my friend seems to be trilled with these movies and voice enthusiasm for the Rapture coming, I might understand that he has a “bring it on” attitude about Jesus’ Second Coming. And, if I listen to his recitation of scriptures, which he sees as facts and data attesting to the Apocalypse, Tribulation, Millennium, and eventual destruction of the Anti-Christ, I might understand his source for this knowledge. And, if I allow him to connect-the-dots in contemporary historical events, I might understand what assumptions he is making.
I might might have different emotional response to the movie, see different facts and data which do not support a historical claim that now-is-the-time, and hold different assumptions about the course of history. But, through empathy I can set aside my experience, briefly, to understand why supporting Mr. Trump and attacking the US Capital building seems like a good idea.
I do not have to agree with my friend to forgive him. Forgiveness could mean being loyal and remaining his friends even with our different experience of these movies or other events. Forgiveness could be engaging in conversations, allowing him to talk about his experiences, and hopefully being able to share that my experiences are different. Forgiveness, might mean deciding, hopefully mutually, to leave certain topics at the door, and focusing on our common interests and areas of agreement (what else are sports, music and ballet for anyway?). Forgiveness could mean cleaning up what we consider to be a mess, when my friend believes the mess was justified. Forgiveness could be allowing my friend to express how annoying I can be at times.
Jesus did not walk away when the crowds just seem to want his healing power. He did not walkaway after hours and days of teaching when the crowds were hungry. He did not walk away when Peter put his foot in his mouth, again and again. He did not walk away when his people allowed the Roman government to kill him. He did not walk away when he was put in the tomb under guard. He did not walk away when his disciples hid in a room upstairs. He did not walk away when Thomas asked for evidence. He did not walk away when Saul stood by, approving of Stephen’s stoning. He did not walk away when the Jewish leaders did not listen to Paul, Peter, or the other disciples. No, he proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.
Let us be merciful, empathizing with each other, forgiving, and accepting the forgiveness from others. Or, maybe I’m just wrong anyway.