Be Merciful

Be Merciful

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful… Luke 6:36. NASB

This has to be learned… It is required of every believer.

And some of those who went down in history as those who were successful at it learned it the hard way—and then succeeded in extending gracious and merciful replies to those around them…

Let me tell you about one of those people.

Perhaps you will recognize this fellow? His history is more than a bit old—but the point of learning mercy is made extremely well in his example.

The man was a journalist who would lampoon various leaders of the day, especially if he held their views in contempt. Sometimes (in fact, often) he would write anonymously—and from the safety of being unknown he would fire his volley of salacious skullduggery against the nearest politician in sight—and would usually make that leader a laughingstock!

In the autumn of 1842 this writer lampooned a vain, pugnacious Irish politician by the name of James Shields. The letter roast was written to skewer the man’s mannerisms; it was drafted as an anonymous letter in the Springfield Journal, and no holds were barred. While some criticism was in the range of fair, most of it was rude, base and low.

The whole town roared with laughter on reading that note, and they would laugh again, every time Shields walked into a room. Shields was pained by having no way to strike back and boiled over with indignation. He began to search for some clue as to who had created such venom directed toward him. Somehow, someway, through some slip of someone’s tongue, he discovered the identity of the one who wrote that note. Immediately, he leaped on his horse, took off his gentleman’s gloves, slapped the writer on the face with them, and challenged the man to a duel to the death.

Now the writer didn’t want to fight. Quite apart from this incident, he had been on record as being fundamentally opposed to duelling—but in that day and era, he couldn’t get out of the challenge to that contest, considering what he had written, and still salvage his honor. He had to either withdraw his words (which would have meant loss of face for his future writing career), and publish a written retraction, or accept the challenge.

He accepted the challenge with great reluctance.

That journalist had over-long, extended arms, and he was quite tall for that era. Because he accepted the challenge, he was given the honor of choosing the weapons for the duel. So, the tall, long-armed journalist chose cavalry long swords—knowing it was his best chance to live through the fight. The two men fixed a date for the battle, and the journalist took sword fighting lessons from a West Point Graduate; as you can imagine, he practiced every day.

On the appointed day, he and James Shields met on a sand bar in the Mississippi River, prepared to fight to the death.

Somehow, at the last minute, their assistants (called seconds) managed to interrupt and persuade both men to stop the fight.

And from that point forward, the attitude of that writer was forever altered. From that day on, that journalist never again lampooned another human being, even if the criticism was more than well deserved. In fact, this defining moment led to many more of the same in the future. Rather than retaliate, that journalist learned to “practice mercy,” and “to be merciful.” In fact, he became so very gracious, that some (friends and critics alike) would lament that he was too slow to take decisive action, when managing obnoxious failures. He would allow people in charge, who failed in their work, to grow—particularly after committing even major error that would literally impact thousands.

That behavior of being gracious, of practicing mercy, would belong to him from that time forward—and would serve as the manner in which history recorded his life.

Perhaps you have heard of him. His name was Lincoln—

Abraham Lincoln.

And it was after that incident that Lincoln decided to become gracious and merciful rather than insulting and rude. He never wrote another insulting letter, never lampooned another person and decided to be a gentle (though principled) man of conviction rather than an ogre, hiding behind a poisoned pen.

  • Mercy can be learned.
  • It can be learned the hard way.
  • It can be learned the gentle way.
  • The second is the better option.

So Jesus of Nazareth commanded us to be merciful, just like God the Father is. Seems a tall order. And of course, it is—and it was learned by a tall man, with over-long arms, handling a cavalry long sword in a duel on a Mississippi sandbar, who discovered that the way of mercy was the better way.

We can learn this too.

© David Chotka 2020