We are just a few days away from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews across the world will celebrate this high holy day and pray for the atonement of their people. This holiday reminds me to reflect on the living sacrifice that covered our sin. It reminds me to reflect on the pain and the suffering of the Messiah. With the “Suffering Servant” as our backdrop, I want us to narrow our focus onto the most vivid example of mercy I can find in our accounts of the crucifixion.
Jesus, hanging on the cross naked, was already beaten, crushed, and bleeding. By this point, his torture had been going on for hours. Below his feet, soldiers started to barter for Jesus’ robe. Earlier in the day, Jesus was given this robe to wear as a tool to mock his claim to kingship.
Imagine, the God of the universe hanging on the cross minutes… moments… away from dying and one of the last scenes he sees are guards mocking him. At the very least, Jesus could have remained silent and simply ignored the guards’ actions. Jesus could have also spoken words of condemnation. Jesus did not do either of those.
Instead, he chose mercy. God the Son used some of the last ounces of energy in his human body to speak mercy. He cried, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 33:34). These men did not deserve any compassion from the Messiah. But Jesus did not only extend compassion, he pardoned them from their error, even while still hanging on the cross.
Paul, in writing to the church in Rome, shows how the Messiah did not see just the guards at his feet. He also saw us. In his mind’s eye, we were standing right alongside the guards who mocked him. Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus did not only cry out “Father, forgive them!” on behalf of the guards. At that moment, He chose to have mercy on us, too.
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1). Mercy is a choice. And, often, it is a choice that we have to make while the offense is still going on. Whether we are the one’s receiving the offense, or just onlookers, in that split-second we choose to extend mercy and compassion or choose to be embittered and fill ourselves with hatred. Let us cross the divide, reach out our hands, and embrace the other. Even if that “other” has decided to choose hatred.
So, whether we are marching down the streets of Washington, D.C., in a Jewish café in the Old City, or at the border between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, we need to be imitators of God. We need to choose to extend mercy. To forgive those who do wrong, even while they are still doing us (or others) wrong. That is how our God chose to reveal himself—as the God of mercy and compassion. May we choose to follow our Messiah likewise.
Father, first, have mercy on us. We are still sinners. Jesus, we thank you that you chose mercy for the whole world while still hanging on the cross. Oh, how unworthy we are. Holy Spirit, work through us so that we can be imitators of our God. Help us to show mercy to all peoples. Amen.