“For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” (James 2:13, AV)
I heard an old story regarding Napoleon, the French dictator, that goes something like this. (I cannot verify the veracity of the story and do not know its origin.) Napoleon was presiding over the execution of a man convicted of treason against the state when a little girl ran up to the dictator and wrapped her arms around his leg crying. She said to him, “Please don’t kill my daddy!” Napoleon responded, “Little girl, your father committed treason and the penalty for this crime is death. For this I must execute justice.” To this the little girl responded, “But sir, I am not asking for justice. I am asking for mercy.” At this the dictator, had compassion for the little girl and released her father.
This is a great explanation of mercy. Mercy is getting that which we do not deserve. Every person who has ever lived on this earth except Jesus is guilty of sin and deserves the death penalty. Yet, for those of true faith in Jesus, God extends a pardon from the just penalty of sin (Rom 6:23). He gives believers mercy rather than justice.
Jesus stated in the great Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7, AV). Here, Jesus indicates that the person who by nature extends mercy to others will experience the mercy of God regarding the judgment for sin. We also know that the heart of a person is corrupt and not prone to show mercy apart from a transformation that the Spirit works in the heart of the believer. The merciful of whom Jesus addressed are those who have experienced true saving faith.
Here James speaks of mercy in the context of the problem of prejudice. Those that have shown no mercy refers to those that have not experienced the Spirit’s work of regeneration, that is those who have not been saved. Believers live characteristically differently. They by nature display a degree of mercy that contrasts to the way of the world. Here is one example. How merciful is it to kill an unborn child in the ninth month of pregnancy?
Yet, the issue here is one of prejudice. How does mercy fit into this theme? It is quite simple if you think about it. Mercy and love are closely connected. With mercy one not only will forgive wrongs done by another, but one will seek to join the other in perfect fellowship. With mercy, there is no record kept of the wrongs committed. With regards to prejudices, this includes wrongs ever committed or perceived to have been committed by any stereotypical group. This is also a two-way street as this means that any group that believes that it has been stereotypically wronged by another group does not seek retribution, which in itself is a display of prejudice.
Moreover, mercy involves forbearance, which requires us to lovingly put up with the cultural and social distinctives that people do that grates on our nerves. This also is a two-way street, for you who are bothered by the characteristics of another are no gem yourself. We all have our annoying distinctives. It may be in the way we dress, the habits we have developed, the food we eat or the way we eat it, etc.
However, the main reason we should not harbor prejudice is that God shows no prejudice towards us. Before salvation we were estranged from God. We were infinitely unlike God and not fit for His kingdom. Yet, He extended mercy to us and worked to make us fit for Heaven. In fact, we still fall infinitely short. Yet, He loves us and accepts us anyway. For this reason, we should show the same aptitude towards others and true believers will endeavor to do so.