What is mercy?

Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:35-36

Dear members and friends,

There is a saying in Korea that has amused me since I heard it for the first time. “Even if it is a piece of paper, it is easier, when lifted together.” At first, I laughed at its nonsense by pointing out the fact that if you would actually try to lift up a piece of paper together with someone, you might tear it apart rather than making the task easier. As time passed, the meaning of this simple saying sank into my mind with a whole new meaning: it is not about a piece of paper, but about how we acknowledge and accept each other. If we acknowledge and accept each other as helpful beings, then we would have a positive attitude toward each other. But if we see each other as strangers – or even worse, as threats – then we would have a negative or even hostile attitude toward each other. In the heart of this simple Korean saying was the essential principle from Confucianism: being a human means to live with each other, meaning a human being finds one’s fulfillment and satisfaction within a community of other humans.   

Many Christians believe or desire to believe that Christianity is all about loving others. Yet, the history of Christianity is undeniably filled with violence against other people. Consequently, many non-Christian people in the world these days feel that Christianity is a very rigid and judgmental religion. However, when you actually open the Bible and read it, you find verses like Luke 6:35-36. Or Isaiah 55:7, where we read “let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Both Isaiah and Luke intentionally use the word “mercy” as the essential nature of God. The Hebrew word for mercy is racham, which means “to love or to have compassion.” In Greek, the word for mercy is oikkos, which also means “to pity or to have compassion on.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, compassion is defined as “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” I particularly love this part in the definition: “with a desire to alleviate it.” Alleviate means “to make (suffering, deficiency, or a problem) less severe.” This is the true message of the Bible that God has been trying to instill in the human mind from the beginning: to help each other by making the suffering, deficiency, or a problem of another less severe.

My brothers and sisters in God, my faith is based on this belief that God is mercy itself, and that we are all capable of being merciful. Let us take this truth to heart and acknowledge and accept each other with a positive attitude.   

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee