Turning Power On Its Head
Amon Goethe, the Nazi concentration camp commandant in the Oscar Award-winning film Schindler’s List, is a brutal character. He kills willingly. He has no empathy. He loves power. Oskar Schindler, who is covertly rescuing Jews as a business owner, attempts to influence Goethe by planting seeds of mercy.
In a fascinating dialogue, Schindler and Goethe discuss the power to kill. Schindler turns the idea of power on its head using a parable. Schindler contends for a truer power: “That’s what the emperors had. A man stole something. He’s brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the ground, he begs for mercy, he knows he’s going to die. And the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.” Goethe thinks this is madness, that his compatriot is drunk. “No,” says Schindler, “That’s power, Amon. That is power.”
Schindler’s tale is strangely reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). In Jesus’ account, a servant owes an exorbitant amount, a debt worthy of imprisonment or worse, yet the Master has mercy and forgives. Stunningly, that servant leaves having received mercy and immediately refuses to show similar compassion to someone owing him a very small debt. The Master is furious: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you” (Matthew 18:33)? The parable is jarring, but Jesus is reiterating what has been the character of God all along.
Mercy For The Pitiful
The great sin of Israel, following their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, was to build a golden calf that they credit for their newfound liberty (Exodus 32:4). The Lord is justifiably angry. He’s ready, in fact, to destroy the insubordinate nation and start over.
Moses stands in the gap, intercedes for the sinners, declares God’s covenant-keeping character, and begs the Lord to not abandon his people. The Lord, faithful to himself, eventually tells Moses that he will make all his goodness pass in front of him, a revelation of the divine nature. The Lord overwhelms Moses with his presence proclaiming: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6).
Did you catch that? Following the great rebellion of the golden calf, the powerful presence of the Lord begins with a declaration of his mercy. The Lord is the Master showing mercy toward the greatest of debtors. Mercy for the pitiful. This is power. Those who receive undeserved mercy, who know the God of mercy, are to share this power.
Mercy for the pitiful. This is power. Those who receive undeserved mercy, who know the God of mercy, are to share this power.
Which leads us to the beatitudes. The spiritual growth of Jesus’ disciples calls for mercy: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Enviable and happy are the merciful. God must be very happy. We should desire his joy. We should revel in the power of mercy. Jesus, assuming his hearers would know the revelation of the Lord to Moses, instructs his disciples to join in God’s powerful mercy. To be merciful is to be like God. Followers of Christ are mercenaries of mercy. When we are merciful, we receive the joy of mercy too.
There is one more serious consideration: the mercy of God is not something he does as part of his holy job description; it is what and who the Lord is. Mercy is God’s nature and character. The disciple of Christ is compassionate because they are becoming like God. Blessed are the merciful.
What is the opposite of merciful? Cruel. Unforgiving. Harsh. Unkind. Ungiving. Amon Goethe.
The True Test Of Mercy
The test of whether we are becoming merciful is not whether we want it or even know we need it. It’s whether it shows up when we are rejected and despised like the Lord was by the Israelites and their golden calf. Does mercy show up when the pitiful and pitied are in my grip? Mercy received is no guarantee that we’re becoming merciful. The servant released into debt-free joy surely wasn’t.
The test of whether we are becoming merciful is not whether we want it or even know we need it. It’s whether it shows up when we are rejected and despised like the Lord was.
So, slow down and consider. Where do harshness and unforgiveness abound around you? Where are you despised and rejected? Where are the vulnerable in your hands? Spiritual growth in the follower of Christ will awaken compassion – the power of godliness.
How deep is the awareness of the mercy you have received? How deep is your awareness of the mercy others need? Mercy-giving is a sign you are a once pitied recipient and becoming like God as your redemption through Christ is fired by the Holy Spirit. This world needs the power of the merciful.
Now, what are you going to do about it?