Another's Skin

Do you remember the last weeks of grade school each year?   It is hot outside, your brain is fried, and the swimming pool beckons.  Surely, you’ve learned enough already?  Time to wrap up the year, and flip flop on home.   I confess that in my enormous impatience and big-headed pride, I get that way with scripture.  In truth, I had gotten that way with the Beatitudes.  In my heart, I was saying, “Yes, yes… Poor in spirit was tough, mourning and meekness were deep, but I get mercy. That’s straightforward. Be merciful.  Done.”

But as I mulled over what “being merciful” should look like in my life; I realized it wasn’t quite so simple.   The thing about mercy is that it is not a natural human response. Our human minds will always function based on what is fair, what is deserved.  While being unjustly wounded, it takes an interruption from outside our humanity, to make us stop insisting upon what So-and-So deserves and to instead offer a second chance, an unmerited pardon.   We cannot manufacture mercy.  Mercy is God’s invention.  He is the source of all mercy.  So, we cannot offer it to someone else without God having first offered it to us.  I cannot check off the box of “being merciful” until I have sat face-to-face with Christ.   In short, I need summer school.

Days after succumbing to further study on this mercy business, my cherished friend told me in shattered brokenness that her husband had an affair with another woman.  My response was a full body cyclone of rage with heart, mind and soul swirling and trembling in anger, bitterness, resentment and even hatred.  I could see nothing beyond the duplicity of this wretched man who betrayed my friend.  Truth be told, I would still be ravaged by uncontrollable emotions if it were not for what she said to me next.   "Katie, I need you to forgive him.  Your anger does not help me.  God is at work here.  God is changing his heart and my heart and our marriage is going to heal."  Silence.  My mind reels.  How can she ask this of me? How can this possibly be the right way forward?  She is obviously not thinking clearly.  This isn’t fair.  He is a liar and a fake and a phony.

Flunking summer school at this point, I must dig deeper.  In the Hebrew form, mercy is ‘chesdh’.  It means the ability to get right inside another person’s skin until we see with their eyes, think with their mind, and feel with their feelings.   It is the ultimate form of compassion.   And then it hit me.  I am no different than my friend’s husband.  When God sent Jesus to this earth, He put on my sin skin.  He walked in my shoes.  He saw what a phony I am, what a liar I can be, how fake and shallow my faith can run.  In so many ways, I cheat on my God.  I deserve judgment.  But He offered me mercy. 

BECAUSE OF JESUS, we don’t have a God who sits on high sternly judging without any understanding of our wayward ways.  We have a God who sent His perfect son to put on fleshly skin like mine, and my friend’s husband’s, and like yours so that He could offer compassion, understanding, mercy.  When we cheat and stumble and fall, we have chesdh.  In the midst of my infidelities against God Himself, Jesus turns to His Perfect Father and says, ‘Yes, but she is mine and I am not finished with her yet.  Just wait and see.’    

While I was still a sinner, He died for me.  Knowing I would go through this life so prone to wander, so prone to stray from the God I love, He offered mercy.  He offered forgiveness for the debts I did not even know I would have.  In one act, on one cross, on one day, all of mercy was offered.  It was showered down, all of it, enough for all time, enough for you and for me. 

And so, I am left with this: 

What if being merciful is not conjuring up a forced forgiveness for another but instead making myself FULL of the abundant mercy that has already been offered to me through Christ?

What if my ability to show mercy depends on my willingness to receive mercy?

And what if my willingness to receive mercy depends on my understanding of my enormous need for it?
Father, let us be women FULL of your Mercy.  Mold our hearts and minds so we don’t just read about mercy, but let us live saturated in it.  Let us live our lives up close and personal with You, the Source of all mercy.  Let us live seen, understood, loved, forgiven, redeemed by You.  And then, make us reflections of your perfect mercy to everyone within our reach.  Amen.