A New Depth of Mercy

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Matthew 5:41–42

As the faith of Israel developed over the centuries, prior to the coming of Christ, there were various stages of advancement in morality. Prior to the establishment of moral laws in the Old Testament, it was common for families to inflict severe vengeance upon other families when harm was done to them. This caused ongoing violence and feuds. But advancements were made when the law of retaliation was established which said, “When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has disfigured a man, he shall be disfigured” (Leviticus 24:19–20). This was a new form of justice that forbade the vengeance from being more severe than the crime that was retaliated against. At the time, this helped end ongoing family feuds that continually escalated.

It is this law of retaliation that Jesus addresses in our Gospel today. The new and much higher form of morality that Jesus taught called His disciples to “offer no resistance to one who is evil” and to turn the other cheek when evil was done to them. Though strict justice requires satisfaction for sin, Jesus’ new teaching was that mercy pays every debt. First, His mercy bestowed upon us, for the forgiveness of our sins, pays the debt of our sins when we truly repent and change. But if we desire our debts to God for our sins to be forgiven and repaid, then we must do the same to others, holding nothing against them.

But Jesus goes even further. In the passage quoted above, Jesus exhorts His disciples to a new and radical form of charity and generosity. This new moral code was how the children of the Kingdom of God were now called to act. It was not enough to only forgive and to forget the debt one owes you because of their sin. Mercy now requires us to “Give to the one who asks” and to walk “two miles” with one who only asks you to walk one mile with them. In other words, Christian charity far exceeds every concept of strict justice and even goes beyond basic forgiveness. This was certainly a new and radical teaching from our Lord.

Think about this new moral law in your own life. What level of “justice” do you most commonly live by? When someone wrongs you, do you live like those prior to the Old Testament laws by seeking to get back at them to an even greater degree than the harm done to you? Do you live by the law that seeks the equal justice of an eye for an eye? Do you seek to forgive and offer mercy as a payment for the debt another has incurred by the sin they have committed against you? Or, ideally, do you strive to go even beyond the act of forgiveness and bestow mercy in a new and generous, superabundant way? This last level of love is difficult to obtain and live, but it is the way our Lord treats us and it is the way that He calls us to treat others.

Reflect, today, upon any hurt you may currently be struggling with. And consider the way in which you have been dealing with that hurt. As you seek to understand this new law of love and mercy given by our Lord, pray to Him that He will give you the grace you need to give to others the same level of mercy that God gives to you.

My generous Lord, You offer Your mercy in superabundance. You not only forgive when we repent, You also restore us to far greater heights of holiness than we could ever deserve. Give me the grace I need, dear Lord, to offer this same level of mercy and love to those who have sinned against me. I forgive all who have hurt me. Please help me to also love them with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.