The Power of Kindness

Micah 6:8  8 God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Proverbs 20:28 28 Love and faithfulness keep a king safe; through love his throne is made secure.

Proverbs 21:21 21 Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity, and honor.

As we saw and heard last week, on our altar today is a copy of Rodin’s famous carving “Two Hands.” In the museum in Philadelphia, Ann and I discovered the full-size carving of Two Hands. We were immediately captured by the impressive carving and the deeper meaning in it. It is represented of two individuals reaching up. It is a powerful representation of what it means to be both human and caring for each other.

We will continue to be working with today’s Scripture Micah 6:8 and the Proverbs 20 and 21. Micah provides for us not only a picture of what God requires of us, but it also provides for us a roadmap toward building the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. One cannot learn about or follow Jesus and not see the importance of justice, humility, mercy, and love. It was evident throughout Jesus’ entire life. It should be for us as well. In an increasingly polarized world, we will be using the Micah 6:8 lens in order that we might discover our commonality. This series will help model what it means to love one another while valuing our differences. Remember: we may not like the person, but we are called to love the person — And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Last week we worked with judgement: Justice – To act justly is to live with a sense of right and wrong, to walk responsibly before God, and protect the needs of the innocent. It is defined as, “the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness.” God calls His people to action when it comes to justice, not to sit passively or stay silent when others are being hurt, abused, in need, or feeling helpless. Throughout God’s word, we see constant reminders that God is a just God.

We all know what mercy is. Kindness, Compassion, sympathy, gentleness, benevolence, helpfulness. We see it every day and we are grateful.

In my searching for examples of mercy or kindness, I came upon this story as I was searching the internet. It is a story about theological students at Harvard who were preparing for the ministry. These theological students were taking their final examination on the topic: Kant’s Moral Imperative. (a difficult topic to understand, but simple to put into action as you will hear) The final examination for this class gave the students two hours to write their philosophy with a ten-minute break in the middle. The students wrote furiously for fifty-five minutes. Then the bell rang; the students all took a break and went out into the hallway. There in the hallway was another student, not part of their class, sitting humped up on the floor, disheveled, looking like a mess. The theological students were busy in conversation with each other, getting a drink of water, taking a bathroom break, and into the classroom they returned for the second hour of writing their philosophy of what it meant to be a moral human being. Weeks later, the theological students received their test results: they had all failed. That is, all the students thought that their test was what they wrote for two hours in the classroom. The professor meanwhile was standing out in the hallway during the ten-minute break and grading them on who approached the man humped down on the floor and spoke a kind word. Nobody did.

Remember: Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan. A man was robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Three people passed safely on the other side of the road. A Jewish priest. A Jewish rabbi. A Samaritan. (a people that was despised and shunned by the Jews). It was only the Samaritan who stopped, knelt down and offered to help.

To love mercy is to show “loving kindness” or “loyal love” towards others, taken from the Hebrew word “hesed.” Just as God’s character is continually loyal and merciful to us, God calls us to live in this same way, both in our relationships with Him and with others. Essentially mercy is defined as, “showing compassion or forgiveness towards someone instead of punishment or harm.”

It’s important to note that this attribute is impossible to do on our own, we desperately need the love of Christ living and breathing in us, through us, to truly understand what it is to “love mercy.” We can be constantly grateful for the gifts of God’s mercy and love covering our lives every single day.This Hebrew word (Hesed) is common in the Old Testament and is difficult to translate into English. Typically, translations go with Mercy. Kindness. Love. Steadfast love. It is most commonly applied to God in how God relates to his people, with steadfast unchanging covenantal and unending kindness and mercy.

We all love mercy; we really do, particularly when are on the receiving end of it. But that is not what this means. It pleases God when we love mercy in that we are personally giving mercy. Giving undeserved kindness. If the kindness is deserved or earned, then it isn’t kindness or mercy. That’s a transaction. You’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. You scratch my back; I scratch your back. That’s the world we live in.

We need both mercy and justice. Justice without mercy is a harsh society. It cries for justice while burning and looting. That’s the cancer culture of today. Justice without kindness. Mercy without justice is a morally corrupt society. We are kind but immoral. Justice safeguards kindness. Kindness safeguards justice. Both/and.

Though Micah is writing some 650 years before the Incarnation of Christ, and therefore was picking up on God’s mercy as displayed in the historical witness of the Old Testament, as we reflect back on the witness of God’s mercy in the Biblical text, we would be remiss not to look at how God’s mercy is displayed throughout both in the Old and New Testaments.

The story line of our faith – going back to the creation story in Genesis – is one of God’s good works, followed by humanity’s failure, followed up again by God’s mercy in forgiving the sinful creation. It is always God’s mercy that provides a new way – a new path – a new life – when we fail. Whether it’s Adam and Eve in the garden, failing to be faithful to God, and God having mercy by letting them continue to live, even if it was out of the garden.

The Israelites were led out of captivity in Egypt into the wilderness, where the complained against God, saying they’d rather be back in Egypt in slavery than wandering in the wilderness. God showed mercy, providing manna from heaven and water to spring up from the ground to sustain them, ultimately leading them to the promised land.

Time and again, God’s people Israel lacked faithfulness, and yet, God continued to provide for them. God has always remained steadfast to the covenant that was made with the created humanity, even when humanity did not remain steadfast to the covenant. This will happen to us, also, as we as a country continue to drift away from God’s mercy.

As Pope Francis said, “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy … and let us become agents of this mercy.”[1] But if we’re honest with ourselves, mercy isn’t what most of us are agents of. We are agents, yes, but of other stuff, as determined by our busy schedules. We bring expertise to work, and we bring order to our homes. We put money in the bank and food on our tables. We tackle to-do lists. But while we do it, we don’t think of what this year is supposed to be all about, especially when it comes to showing mercy to those who most need it — the lonely, the poor, and the suffering. Sometimes it feels like more people need mercy than we can provide — and exactly how to show mercy feels overwhelming or impossible, so we just … sink back into our everyday lives. But there are ways to be merciful that are small but still meaningful. Try squeezing these simple acts into your everyday life:

  1. Forgive yourself: How do you handle yourself: when you make a mistake or when you snap in anger at a loved one. One way to practice mercy is to forgive yourself. “St. Teresa of Calcutta said ‘we have forgotten that we belong to one another. Today, when the world is in dire need of compassion, mercy, and hope, we can begin with ourselves, by going to God and asking for forgiveness. Then we can share that mercy with our family, our neighbors, and the world.”
  2. Forgive somebody else: Once we’ve practiced mercy by forgiving ourselves, we’re better equipped to forgive other people. That means that this act of mercy won’t be easy. If someone has transgressed against you, it can be almost comforting to hold on to anger and resentment. Forgiving someone is an active choice, one that requires a certain strength of mind.
  3. Make a phone call: It is quick to text, but texts are devoid of what your friends and family members often long for: your voice, your presence, and your full attention. Taking the time out of your day is a small sacrifice, but making a sacrifice is an act of compassionate mercy. So, make the call —or to an old friend, or to your neighbor. That you’d disrupt your usual routine to include them in your day will express what mercy always does: your love.
  4. Talk to a stranger: How easy it is to pass by people we don’t know when we’re in public. But we can practice mercy by doing what comes less naturally: talk to them.
  5. Unplug: There can be great mercy in being wholly present with the people who surround you. Make it happen by unplugging when you’d rather not. Keep your phone in the car at the restaurant, leave your laptop at the office, or turn the TV off. Your undivided attention might be what your loved ones need — and providing it in a culture that isn’t conducive to it is an act of mercy.
  6. Say ‘I love you’ when you’re mad: I can think of several phrases that are easy to say when I’m upset about something that somebody I love has done. “I love you” isn’t one of them. Say it anyway. Conflict is inevitable in relationships, and nobody likes it. But commitment itself is merciful. In the midst of it, nothing expresses your commitment to your loved one, be it a significant other, a parent, a child, like the reminder that you love him or her — and that you aren’t going to walk away.
  7. Be kind on purpose: Be kind in every word you speak, especially on the internet. “This can impact those around us in countless ways. Servant leadership is the way God calls us to lead those around us. Seeing your actions in kindness and service can teach them to do the same. We learn by watching others. Show kindness and mercy and watch your world change.”
  8. Clean somebody else’s bathroom: Odds are good that if you’re allowed in it while it needs to be cleaned, your relationship to the person who uses it is such that he or she won’t be insulted that you cleaned it. Instead, they’ll have felt your mercy. They’ll know you’ve seen the kind of mess that they can create — and they’ll know that you love them anyway.

Finally, practice Micah 6:8  8 God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Thanks be to God!


[1] Everyday acts of mercy–Aleteia