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OPINION: Mercy after hours

by By Robert Box, A Chaplain’s Perspective | September 21, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

The Bible says in John 1:17 (NIV), "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Some time ago, when I was looking for a close place to get a flu shot, I planned to stop by the Mercy Health Clinic over in Rogers. However, I missed the turn into the clinic and had to turn around. As I did, I noticed a large sign staring at me which said in bold letters MERCY AFTER HOURS and a sign pointing around to the back of the building. Obviously, the purpose of the sign was to suggest that if you had a special need and the clinic was closed, you could go around back and receive treatment, but what fascinated me was the sign about "Mercy After Hours."

When does mercy occur? Who provides mercy? And, is mercy available after hours when most people are at home resting?

I remember the story in Matthew 15:21-28 about the time Jesus withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon, and a woman from that region came out begging him to have mercy on her. It seems her daughter was being cruelly attacked by demonic forces. At first, Jesus chose not to pay any attention to her, but she was persistent. He tried to put her off by claiming that he had been sent to minister to the lost sheep of Israel, and suggested that it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. To which, the woman said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." That got Jesus' attention and he recognized her great faith. Then, he gave her mercy and her daughter was healed.

Mercy is not something that is earned or deserved. Mercy is "unmerited favor." It is an act of giving something important that goes beyond what is normal. It is attached to "going the second mile" and "turning the other cheek." You can't earn it, pay for it, or barter for it; it is a free gift that is undeserved. It is a desperate parent on his/her knees before God begging for the crumbs.

Christians tend to know a lot about the law that was given through Moses, but they tend to be a little short on mercy. The law was given to make sense out of chaos, but the power behind the law and the power to allow a person to become a Christian is the Spirit of God extending mercy where it is unearned. We have a God of mercy!

Although not completely true, there is a tendency for conservative Christians to know a lot more about the law than God's mercy and grace. Let me illustrate. The story is told in Luke 10:38-42 about Mary and Martha, Jesus' friends. When he came for a visit, Martha obeyed the law and immediately began working in the kitchen to make a dinner. On the other hand, Mary seated herself at the foot of Jesus and began to listen to his every word. Martha knew the law, but Mary ignored it. During those times, a woman could only receive instruction from either her father or husband, not the visiting rabbi. But what did Jesus say? He said that Mary had chosen the best part and it would not be taken from her.

Or, to put it another way, suppose a farmer mowed his hay and needed to get it into the barn before it rained. This happened when I was a young man, and like a good neighbor, I jumped in with others and we got the hay into the barn before the rain. Afterwards, the farmer came over and said he wanted to give me something for my help. He offered me $5. Now, if I took it, I would have worked all day long for lousy wages, and the law would have been fulfilled; but if I refused it (which I did), I would have extended mercy and grace and enjoyed the blessings such action provides.

We in the church know all about the law, but what about mercy after hours. How many times did Jesus say to his disciples, "You have heard it said, but I say unto you?" Jesus obviously went beyond the law to mercy. So, how are Christians any better than anyone else in the world? Can you really tell a Christian by his or her actions? The difference may be how Christians provide mercy after hours. Christians are to be different. They are to be "in the world, but not of the world." They belong to Christ, and he wants them to be specialists in providing mercy after hours.

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 30 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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