Definition: The quality of love in action that keeps us from the extremes of tolerance and judgmentalism.

Key Verse

Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.”


Matthew 18:23-35 NLT—Unmerciful Spirit of a Forgiven Debtor

(Read the passage slowly a couple of times, taking note of parts that stand out to you personally, and re-read these parts again prayerfully, asking God to speak to you.  With whom do you identify in this passage and what message do you sense God has for you?  Take time to pray and then re-read the passage, repeating this pattern over and over thoughtfully. Take these thoughts with you throughout the day(s) and look for God at work in you.)

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand  dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full, specially since there was an assault and battery case involved. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

Luke 10:25-37 NLT—Parable of the Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Consider the Text

(You don’t have to do all the questions. Pick what resonates with you.)

  1. What is your reaction to these parables?
  2. What emotions do you experience as you read the passages?
  3. Which character seems most like you today?
  4. What message is God giving you through these passages?
  5. In what ways are you indifferent to the needs of others (tolerating instead of taking action)?
  6. In what ways are you demanding of others when you could be more merciful?
  7. What does mercy look like in a person?
  8. What does mercy look like in a society?
  9. How is mercy different from accountability (ensuring that the offense is not repeated)?
  10. What is happening in your community that upsets you? What can you do about it?
  11. In what ways do we sometimes pass by on the other side?
  12. How does mercy involve using your own resources (time, finances, energy, etc)?
  13. What keeps us from showing mercy?
  14. What benefits will you see in your life by being a merciful person?

Journal My Response

  1. What people come to mind for whom I can show kindness in practical ways?
  2. Specific ways I can go the second mile, give someone my cloak, love my enemy are …
  3. What can I do to bridge the gap for someone this week?
  4. What keeps me from showing mercy to others more frequently in my life?
  5. How does being too busy make me less merciful?
  6. Specific ways I can create more margin or space in my life are …
  7. Who inspires me as an example of mercy?
  8. In my life to whom have I been judgmental?
  9. Is there someone I could talk with to help me grow in this area?
  10. How do the previous subjects of gratitude, joy, hope, and freedom help me in being merciful to others?
  11. Some ways I have experienced mercy in my life are …
  12. What are some results I have seen when I accept God’s mercy?
  13. Specific ways that I can show mercy this week are…
  14. How is Christ living in me a requirement for being a merciful person?
  15. How does being merciful require me to think differently?
  16. How do I benefit from showing mercy to others?  What changes could occur in me?  What impact will I have on others through showing mercy?
  17. God, I am available to You.  Please live through me with love in action by…

Deeper Study

James 2:12-13; Luke 6:36; Colossians 2:12-17; Lamentation 3:22-23; Matthew 5:38-45

Recommended Resources

  • Book: Irresistible Revolution, by Shane Claibourne (Call No. 261.1)
  • Book: Red Letters – Living A Faith That Bleeds, by Tom Davis (Call No. 261.1)
  • Book: Why Jesus Crossed The Road, by Bruce Main (Call No. 248.4)
  • Movie: To Save A Life – Everyone Has Problems but Not Everyone Has Faith (Westheights Library, DVD. Note: rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality)
  • Movie: End Of The Spear (Westheights Library, DVD. Note: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence)
  • Movie: Amazing Grace (Westheights Library, DVD. Note: rated PG for thematic material involving slavery; some mild language)
  • Song: Break Our Hearts, by Vicky Beeching (see video on our blog)
  • Song: God of Justice, by Tim Hughes (see video on our blog)

Family Devotional

A father and daughter were walking together through a store when they came upon THE COOLEST THING the daughter had ever seen. “Dad, I REALLY want that thing…but I don’t have any money. Will you please, please, PLEASE buy it for me?” she begged.

“Well, I don’t know… it’s pretty expensive,” said the father as he mulled over his daughter’s proposal. “If I buy it for you, you will have to pay me back by the end of the month. You’ll have to  do a lot of extra babysitting and chores around the house to make that money.”

“DEAL!” she exclaimed, and off they headed to the cashier with THE COOLEST THING the daughter had ever seen in tow.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the month was over. The daughter had been so distracted that she hadn’t earned a single dollar to pay to her father. When he approached her about it and she admitted she couldn’t pay, the father ordered that she sell some of her other treasured possessions to make the money. The daughter fell on her knees before him. “Be patient with me,” she begged, “and I will pay back everything.” Now, not everyone would consider this prudent parenting when it comes to teaching about money management, but this father was filled with grace, and took pity on his daughter. He cancelled her debt and told her she no longer had to pay. The daughter was thrilled! What a loving father she had!

The next day, however, the daughter remembered that she had paid for her little brother to go skating, and that he had never paid her back. She grabbed him by his shirt, pulled him towards her and shouted, “Pay back what you owe me!”

Her brother fell to his knees and begged her, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.” But she refused, and she socked him as hard as she could in the arm. (Such violence!)

When the father heard what happened he called his daughter in. “You rotten girl!” he exclaimed. “I cancelled that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your brother just as I have had on you?”. Filled with anger, the father decided to ground his daughter until she could pay back everything she owed. (That gave the daughter plenty of time to think about what it means to be merciful!)

Family Activities:

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant: Read Matthew 18:21-35 (the Scripture passage used to inspire the story above) and use it as a jumping off point for a discussion about forgiveness. Focus especially on Peter’s conversation with Jesus in verses21-22. Who represents God in both versions of the story? Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. How does this relate to the stories?

Another Person’s Shoes: Ephesians 4:31-32 reads, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” As a family, talk about some occasions in recent memory when you were angry with someone. How might have you shown that person mercy? Talk about how you might remind one another to see things from the perspective of the person you are angry at, even in the heat of the moment. Ask yourself, why might they have done what they did? (This may not excuse the behaviour of the other person, but it may help you feel compassion for them and allow you to take action with that in mind.)

Practice Active Listening: Pick two family members to have a conversation, and decide on a fun topic for them (e.g. an outdoor car wash in the winter, or what if dogs could talk). Here’s the kicker: After each person speaks, the other person must wait for five seconds before they can respond. (Have a third person count down from five silently using their fingers as a cue.) Try to keep good eye contact with one another, and really LISTEN to what the other person is saying. Now switch up the pairing, pick a new topic and try it again. Make sure everyone gets a chance to participate. How did that feel? Was it hard to wait? Did you change your mind about what you were going to say during the 5 seconds? How many times, when we are spoken to, do we formulate a response before the other person is done speaking? This can lead to miscommunication and can make it difficult to judge the other person’s intent. This exercise is a great way to practice slowing down and paying attention to what people are saying to us, which can help us to have compassion and mercy.

This Week’s Family Challenge

Together as a family, pray that you would act as Jesus would in every situation. Pray for mercy and compassion as a family. Pray NOW for the instinct and heart-condition to respond mercifully THEN, when being judgmental and acting without compassion is a temptation. Pray that your family would be a light and shining example to others when it comes to showing mercy. Ask God for the forgiveness and mercy that each of us requires from Him, and that His grace and mercy would inspire us to treat others the same way.