Not Getting What You Deserve

A mother once begged Napoleon to pardon her son. The emperor denied her request for the young man had committed a certain offense twice. Napoleon emphasized, “Justice demands death.”

“But I don't ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”

“But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.

“Sir,” the woman cried,
“it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”

Touched by the woman’s love for her son, Napoleon declared, “Then, I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son from certain death.[1]

Justice is getting what you deserve. But mercy is not getting what you deserve. We are supposed to be punished for our sins. We deserve it. And God is just if he will do so. Yet, when we cried out for mercy, God gave it to us even if we really don’t deserve it.

Since we received mercy, we ought to give it also. William Mounce wrote, Mercy is a requisite quality of those who belong to God… Since God is merciful, he in turn desires his followers to show mercy in their relationships with others… One way in which disciples are to have mercy on someone is to forgive. (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)

But we tend to withhold mercy because we feel people ought to deserve forgiveness. We forget that we don’t deserve it either. But God forgave us nonetheless. If we fail to give mercy, James warns us, “if you refuse to act kindly, you can hardly expect to be treated kindly. Kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time.” (2:13, NLT) Thus, let us extend mercy to people who don’t deserve it just like us.

Brethren, be merciful for our God is merciful.


[1] Adapted from Luis Palau, "Experiencing God's Forgiveness.”

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