Living Well

March 29, 2010

The Power of Mercy

Power is bestowed in a plethora of ways, including many symbols.  In ancient Rome, the encompassing symbol of power for the king was called the imperium.  This conferred ‘oath’ gave emperors and senators the right of power over wealth, military control, and issues regarding justice.  Under this mantel of power, kings, emperors, and counsels could grant life or death, freedom or slavery, fortune or famine to individuals and society.  Unfortunately for the Roman Empire and its later history, the imperium mantel made numerous men singularly self-serving to the detriment and destruction of those they led.

William Shakespeare wrote in “Measure for Measure” (1604), “No ceremony that to great one’s long, Not the king’s crown, not the deputed sword, The marshal’s truncheon, not the judge’s robe, Become them with one half so good as grace as mercy does.”  Great ones, glimpsed Shakespeare, long not for external mantels or symbols of power, but for a power that changes both the giver and receiver both internally and externally.  Mercy is a becoming quality that is powerful and captivating.  No outward symbol, no matter how elegantly embroidered or crafted, comes close to matching the transforming power of mercy.

Power resides in mercy.  The giver of mercy, by its own definition, must have some form of power over another.  Whether the giver has been offended by deed or word or injured physically by the one seeking mercy, the holder of mercy has a decision to make regarding healing or harming, restoring or rejecting, because they have the power over the seeker.

Mercy is our willingness—a deliberate personal choice—to forebear an injury from another and not treat the offender as severely as is rightly deserved.  It is a kindness or favor beyond what can rightly be claimed by a person who may have harmed or injured in either word or deed.

Being merciful does not always mean that consequences of the offender are ignored.  Sometimes those decisions are outside the mercy holder’s sphere of power or ability to alter.  Yet mercy is a willingness to choose not to treat a person “as severely as deserved” even if the consequences cannot be changed.  A merciful act could override consequences deserved in favor of restitution or wholeness of the receiver.  To make another person whole by merciful acts may be the greatest empowerment which a person can receive.  Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th Century, is a powerful testimony to what mercy and grace can do to alter life.

The Bard also noted “the quality of mercy is twice blessed.  It blesses him that gives and him that takes.”  We are never obligated to display mercy.  It is ultimately a free will offering of ourselves because we desire to bring prosperity, wholeness, and redemption instead of retribution and retaliation.  Mercy is a gracious matter that re-forms the human spirit, both in the giver and the receiver.  It may be one of the most blessed acts of being human. 

What about you?  Have you ever received a free gift of mercy from another, even though you deserved punishment?  How did it feel?  How did you feel restored, not only in your heart but with the other person?  Giving that same experience of restoration to another is freedom—both for those who give and those who receive.

Blessings for you today as you use your personal power in whatever situation you find yourself for mercy and restoration and redemption.  Grace and peace.

David Neidert


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