I readily admit that mercy makes me uncomfortable. By its very nature it’s unfair, so it rubs me the wrong way, except when I need it. Mercy doesn’t feel as much like a warm blanket as it does a thorn in the side.
The thing about Christianity is that it turns our notions about the world and about ourselves upside down. It says that beggars have a place at the table. That the unworthy get an equal share. Sinners are welcomed. And not just welcomed; being a sinner is your ticket in.
Now, I might not care much for your particular breed of sin. Your proclivities may make be squirm. Or rage. On the Daja Sin-Scale the evil that abides in your heart is 100x worse than the evil that abides in mine. But looking at the cross, I must confess that Jesus doesn’t use my sin-scale. That radical confrontation with Jesus puts to death the notions of my own goodness.
Dorothy Day said, “The Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the underserving poor.”
In a letter to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can.”
Because love of neighbor—even the horrible neighbors who you wish would just move already, you know the ones—is at the very core of our faith, the signs I saw on a church as I drove by yesterday grieved me.
The first side I saw said, “KKK: You are not welcome here.”
If anyone loathes racism, it is me. I am a black and latina woman married to a Mongolian. I get it. That white supremacism crap doesn’t fly with me. But my crucifix reminds me: the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. This includes the sinners I find most distasteful, most offensive, most loathsome. Jesus welcomes them, too. For how else are the dirty to ever be made clean? How else is mercy to ever be experienced? How can sinful people participate in a life of grace? The doors have to be open—even to those card-carrying members of the KKK. That’s a radical kind of faith and a radical kind of call. The kind of call I’d like to let go straight to voicemail.
The second side of the same sign said, “We condemn: white supremacists and neo-nazis.”
I think perhaps the heart is in the right place, but the language is not. You see, as a Christian you can (and must!) completely reject and condemn ideologies and actions that are in opposition to God’s love and nature. But, you cannot reject people—even the ones who believe bat-shit crazy things, even the ones who do evil things. You can condemn white supremacism. You cannot condemn white supremacists. Only God sits on that great final throne of judgement. He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. And compassion on whom He will show compassion. And you don’t get a say. And I don’t either. (Exodus 33:19)
Which is perhaps the best and most uncomfortable news of all.
Every era has its pet sin, the one that is worse than all others on society’s sin-scale. If the waves of popular opinion were the judge a whole lot more people would be without mercy. Think back 100 years. Racism would get a pass, but unwed motherhood wouldn’t. Today, it’s racism we bring the hammer down on. Truth is, in every era, regardless of public opinion and trends, we rely on God’s mercy.
I cannot condemn white supremacists and neo-nazis. It’s not my job. The calling and challenge as a Christian is to love everyone and to let God sort them out in the end. It’s tough. It’s messy. It even makes me mad at times. Yet, in the end, I’m awfully glad that other Christians have the calling and challenge of loving me at my unloveliest, and letting God sort me out in the end, too. If I am brutally honest, there are things I have done that I don’t want announced on the church marquee, things that might exclude me from good society.
You see, you only get the mercy you show. You only receive the forgiveness you extend to others. In this day-and-age everyone acts like the words of Jesus are easy. An entire generation thinks Jesus is a barefoot hippie figure sitting around a fire singing kumbaya and telling his followers what they want to hear. But if you read the words of Jesus you get a different picture altogether:
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-48)
And this: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:36-37)
And this: “…if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) #thingsIwishJesusdidn’tsay
I don’t get to take my eraser to Scripture, even when horrible things are committed in God’s name. I might accidentally erase the exact mercy I’m going to need before the day’s over.
These are turbulent time my friends. In ourselves we want to react, to reject, to distance ourselves from the fray. God’s love wants to rush into the middle of it. God’s love wants to embrace some sinners and call all people to a life of participation in grace. What you, what I, what His people need to decide is whether or not we will be participating in that grace ourselves. Or whether we think we don’t need it.
[Updated: yesterday I passed the same church and one side of the sign has been amended:
Well, it’s a start at least.]