Responsible mercy

Believers are rich in wisdom; generosity is required in our dealings with others.

Believers are rich in wisdom; generosity is required in our dealings with others.

Through the Proverbs and into the New Testament writings, the rich are chastised for oppression of the poor.

  • Prov 18:23: The poor plead for mercy, but the rich answer harshly.
  • Proverbs 22:16 – Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.
  • Proverbs 28:6 – Better to be poor and walk in integrity than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich.
  • Proverbs 22:7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
  • James 2:6-7 – Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
  • James 5:1-6 – Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

While these passages are based on real class issues that had arisen among God’s people, the central issue is not just that they were rich, but that they were crooked in their dealings, oppressing those who were below them in social status, being rough with those with whom they could have shown greater compassion.

As we have seen in many other lessons, mercy and forgiveness are closely associated throughout the Bible. One of the reasons this is so is because they both have to do with an offset of privilege; a power imbalance is in play. This is most evident between the rich and the poor because of simple economics, but it speaks to a spiritual power imbalance in any relationship.

The “rich” individual is the one who holds the primary rights in a situation between two people. This is the person who has the ability to control an outcome simply because of standing or evidence that backs their position. The “poor” person in the relationship lacks this gravitas and is essentially “at the mercy” of the more strongly-positioned individual. In this case, the “rich” person may have the ability to hurt the less-strongly positioned individual, and this is where mercy comes into play.

Rather than flaunt their right position, this individual can simply forgive the less-strongly positioned individual to end the matter. This is showing mercy: having the ability to exercise a power but refraining for the good of another, or for the continuation of a valuable relationship.

James speaks to this issue and drives home the accountability that the more strongly-positioned individual carries in the eyes of God.

James 2:13 – For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

James says that showing mercy is more important than always being right. This is the way we can view passages like this that speak to power imbalances and draw viable spiritual conclusions. We can also corroborate this type of teaching with the teaching of Yeshua in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:7: ” Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Mercy and forgiveness are much more valued than a judgment that proves one’s position to be right. This honors the less-strongly positioned individuals and provides them an opportunity to realize the reality of their position. Perhaps in that light, they will repent of the wrongly held opinion or actions they are promoting.

As responsible believers seeking to honor God, we should always default to mercy and forgiveness due to the richness of the wisdom of God that has been provided to us.

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