So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2: 12-13 NRSV)
Sometimes I wonder if we really get what these verses are saying anymore. I was studying the first few verses of James 2 this morning and stopped to ponder on what they mean for me, and what they mean for the Church and all of us as Christians in our world today.
Have I ever been shown mercy? Of course I have. We all have, whether we like to admit it or not. We all make mistakes, many of them might just be the small, garden-variety transgressions, but some of them are not. I know that I have said things to people that have really damaged them. I know that I am guilty of judging others for any number of reasons.
We’re good at judging, aren’t we? I know I am. It’s so easy to sit back and look at something that someone else has done and say, “Man, I hope that individual gets what’s coming to them.” Judging others makes us feel superior to others and helps us minimize our own shortcomings.
I had a chat sometime ago with a young Christian person on the subject of Gay rights and Gay Marriage. While this person expressed sympathy for gay people and what they often have to go through on a day to day basis, they said that they just couldn’t go along with something that is expressly forbidden by scripture. At the very time this person was saying this they were living and sleeping with someone to whom they were not married.
Now, I don’t say this to judge, shame this individual, or point out my own superiority. I have my own issues too, but it’s so EASY to sit back and point out a “sin” that someone else is committing and not realize what’s happening in our own lives. That conversation just illustrates that.
I think as a church we are corporately guilty of this as well. I hammer this time and time again on this blog, but look at the headlines and see where Christians and the Church usually appear. I’d say 90 percent of the time it’s an article about sitting in judgment of people. Whether it’s gay marriage, abortion, or the use of contraceptives, the church is nearly always portrayed as AGAINST something. When the church is FOR something it often is some inane little thing like “In God We Trust” being on money or forcing corporate prayer into public schools.
Meanwhile the rest of the world just laughs, and some of us Christians wonder what truly happened to the message of Christ.
Think about what might happen if the church changed their focus. What if instead of trying to push to outlaw legal, secular marriages between gay couples, the church decided to pursue the eradication of hunger and poverty? After all, discrimination against the poor is the context of the verses I quoted from James. What if the church worried less about whether young people have access to condoms and more about combating the institutional racism so inherent in our society and sometimes in our own churches?
Basically, what if the church turned from focusing on judgment to focusing on mercy? Can you imagine the impact that millions of Christians in the US alone could have on these issues?
I have been shown tremendous mercy. I’m a screw up, and I’ll probably keep screwing up and stumbling my way through life. Sometimes my mistakes will be just that, accidental mistakes. Sometimes they’ll be more than that. Sometimes they’ll be calculated choices I make to inflict pain on others. I do everything I can to avoid that, but I’m not perfect. I need grace and I need mercy.
But the Good News is that despite ALL OF THAT, God still loves me, God still seeks to use me, damaged little tool that I am. I can just sit back and think about that and still it blows my mind. Despite the fact that I am a grade A screw up, God still puts me in situations in which he can use me every day of my life. Wow.
Despite the fact that I’ve done things that I’m ashamed of, God is NOT ashamed of me and I can be called a Child of the Living God, Creator of All Things.
That’s Good News for you too, whether you realize it or not. Christ loves you and wants YOU to be a part of this revolutionary idea called the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of the God the last become the first, the poor are blessed, the hungry are filled with good things, the rich are sent away empty, those who mourn are comforted, and MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT.
It’s a subversive, wild idea, and it goes against everything our culture and our world tells us that we should value. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s dangerous. People have died for this vision, but it’s the vision of Christ.
We can all start today by remembering that mercy triumphs over judgment and choosing to exercise that mercy in our own lives while remembering the mercy that we have been shown.