Luke 1:69-72 “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us– to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.”
You know that not all the help we receive means we mean a lot to the helper. I once visited someone in the hospital who was struggling with great pain. One of the nurses in particular was gifted at helping this patient get relief. When my friend thanked the nurse for her compassion and for caring so much, the nurse made a rather startling confession. “I don’t care about you or your pain. I care about my job. That’s the reason why I work so hard at this.”
Don’t we have to make similar admissions? Sometimes we help because we care so deeply about someone, but not always. Sometimes our mercy, if you can call it that, comes because we have been made to feel guilty. Then it may come with a grudge.
If we can advertise the help we give a little, like the Pharisees Jesus accused of making a public spectacle of their charitable gifts, we might like what it does for our pride. Maybe, like the nurse I mentioned, it’s just our job. In other cases, it may be nothing more than a matter of necessity: the stalled car ahead is blocking the road, and you aren’t going to get through until someone pushes it off to the side, so you get out to help.
It would not be impossible to think of God’s help that way, at least in some of the time. Does he help me just because he has created these great cosmic principles by which everything is supposed to work, and he doesn’t want to break his own rules? Is the help I get today nothing more than a piece in a puzzle in some far grander scheme, and it is just my good fortune that my need fit into that plan? Many religions have gods who work mostly out of self-interest. Eastern religions don’t have personal gods at all, just an impersonal “force” of some sort. And how can an impersonal force care about me?
But “mercy” means more than God’s help. Mercy means that when God looks at our misery he is genuinely moved by what he sees. He is filled with compassion. Crying children stir something inside of us that makes us want to help, to relieve their suffering, even if the children are complete strangers. It’s a matter of the heart as much as it is the hands.
So we see God’s mercy so often in Jesus’ ministry. He came to preach to a people who were spiritually starving. These souls had been fed the spiritual equivalent of sawdust–no grace, just rules. Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” When Jesus goes to comfort his friends Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus, and he sees them crying, he is so moved by their grief that he starts to cry himself. Then, of course, he follows with the mercy of bringing Lazarus back to life.
Do you see what this means for you and me? Because Jesus is full of mercy, we have more than God’s help. We have a place in his heart. Our misery genuinely moves him, and it moves him to help. Even when help seems a long time in coming, and our prayers don’t seem to be answered, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.
Sometimes God’s mercies to you and me involve things that pain him to see us suffer, but because it’s necessary to help and save us, he lets it continue until we are safe. At no time is his relationship with us a cold, impersonal, professional relationship. God has mercy because he genuinely cares, and that means we have a place in his heart.