SHOULD JESUS HAVE MERCY ON YOU?
Mark 10: 46-52
In the book, “A Higher Call,” written by Adam Markos and Larry Alexander, they write:
“Revenge, not honor, drove 2nd Lt. Franz Stigler to jump into his fighter that chilly December day in 1943.
Stigler wasn’t just any fighter pilot. He was an ace. One more kill and he would win The Knight’s Cross, Germany’s highest award for valor.
Yet Stigler was driven by something deeper than glory. His older brother, August, was a fellow Luftwaffe pilot who had been killed earlier in the war. American pilots had killed Stigler’s comrades and were bombing his country’s cities.
Stigler was standing near his fighter on a German airbase when he heard a bomber’s engine. Looking up, he saw a B-17 flying so low it looked like it was going to land. As the bomber disappeared behind some trees, Stigler tossed his cigarette aside, saluted a ground crewman and took off in pursuit.
As Stigler’s fighter rose to meet the bomber, he decided to attack it from behind. He climbed behind the sputtering bomber, squinted into his gun sight and placed his hand on the trigger. He was about to fire when he hesitated. Stigler was baffled. No one in the bomber fired at him.
He looked closer at the tail gunner. He was still, his white fleece collar soaked with blood. Stigler craned his neck to examine the rest of the bomber. Its skin had been peeled away by shells, its guns knocked out. He could see men huddled inside the plane tending to the wounds of other crewmen. Then he nudged his plane alongside the bomber’s wings and locked eyes with the pilot whose eyes were wide with shock and horror. Stigler pressed his hand over the rosary he kept in his flight jacket. He eased his index finger off the trigger. He couldn’t shoot. It would be murder.
Stigler wasn’t just motivated by vengeance that day. He also lived by a code. He could trace his family’s ancestry to knights in 16th century Europe. He had once studied to be a priest.
A German pilot who spared the enemy, though, risked death in Nazi Germany. If someone reported him, he would be executed.
Yet Stigler could also hear the voice of his commanding officer, who once told him:
“You follow the rules of war for you — not your enemy. You fight by rules to keep your humanity.”
Alone with the crippled bomber, Stigler changed his mission. He nodded at the American pilot and began flying in formation so German anti-aircraft gunners on the ground wouldn’t shoot down the slow-moving bomber. (The Luftwaffe had B-17s of its own, shot down and rebuilt for secret missions and training.) Stigler escorted the bomber over the North Sea and took one last look at the American pilot. Then he saluted him, peeled his fighter away and returned to Germany.
“Good luck,” Stigler said to himself. “You’re in God’s hands.”
Mercy. It’s an unexpected kindness received, often from someone in a more powerful position. Not everyone—on a good day, or a day of anger, or of great grief—may be in favor of mercy. You may, at times, think people should get what they deserve. People on death row often hope for mercy; the man who was drinking and hit another car, killing a baby, may hope for mercy. The woman who drove her car into a homecoming parade, killing people, may hope for mercy. The person who was texting while driving who hit a boy on a bicycle and injured him permanently may hope for mercy. People who face death with some unfinished business in their soul may hope for mercy from the Almighty. People who are caught in adultery may beg for mercy from their spouse. What did Jesus do with the woman caught in adultery? He did not say, “You will now get what you deserve” which in those days would certainly have been death. No. He showed mercy. “Go and sin no more,” he said. And I dare say that woman never forgot the amazing grace and unexpected kindness Jesus showed her. Those are among the people who may hope for mercy from a court, mercy from another human being, or mercy from God. There may come a day, or maybe it is here today or it has already come, when you ask for, indeed plead for, mercy for your soul. What will be the outcome of that request?
In today’s text from Mark, Jesus traveled to Jericho: a resort-like village. On his way out of the city, a man named Bartimaeus (literally, son of Timaeus,) asked Jesus for mercy; some translations say “pity,” but mercy is more encompassing of this beggar’s request. As a blind man, he was a victim of his time. His time said there was some sin that he, or someone in his lineage, had committed for him to be blind. It was not believed to be an accident, or genetics, but the result of a sin. So pity would mean “feel sorry for me because of my state and help me.” It would be akin to asking for a handout from you or me. But to say “have mercy on me” meant he would look at others as if they were better than he; those who were not broken by their sins. In addition, Jesus had developed quite an entourage: a following that made this blind man hear the many feet of people who surrounded him. What is astounding about his request? Did you wonder, as you heard the passage today, how a blind man in a city Jesus rarely visited knew to call Jesus’ name and to call him “Son of David?” Have you been around blind people? Many ask questions of those around them. Questions like “What’s happening?” “Who’s coming?” and “Jesus? Who’s Jesus?” Could it be that this resourceful blind man asked such questions in order to find out who was coming? Might he have surmised that this man had the power, like a priest, to make him clean? The people helped him only when Jesus indicted that he would speak to him. “Call him,” he said to the crowd. So they turned to Bartimaeus saying, “He’s calling you!” And in the sight of the crowd, Jesus asked him: “What do you want me to do for you?” And without pausing an instant Bartimaeus said, “Master, Rabbi, let me see!” This time Jesus did not send the man to a priest to pronounce cleansing. Instead he said, “Go; your faith has made you well.” And the man was healed.
Mercy is interesting. It involves a person feeling “over a barrel” to use an expression. They can do or say nothing to save themselves. Everything depends on the decision of the one in power: an official, a hurt spouse, a concerned parent, or a betrayed friend. If you have been the one hurt, betrayed, or offended, then you have wielded great power over another. With a word, you could condemn the guilty party; and it would be your right to do so; and that relationship could be irretrievably broken. Or; or you could decide if the person is truly, truly sorry; that there is a chance the person will change and not do that foolish thing again. Courts sometimes show mercy; people do it; and you could do it. Many say it takes a bigger person to apply consequences with mercy than with rigidity. And many say that bridges are built and lessons learned better through mercy than through rigidity. If you can remember a time mercy was applied to you—perhaps you were charged with petty theft, or with taking something that didn’t belong to you—you will consider mercy.
In my freshman year of college, I was taking an English class. I was not a student well prepared for college. High school had been fairly easy for me to get good grades. But this was college! I had never written in a textbook in my life. I had written term papers in high school, but I often used portions taken from encyclopedias without crediting my sources. That was how others did term papers and I followed their example. But this was college! I had a midterm paper assigned that would be half of my grade: I wrote it and turned it in. A week later I got it back. What was my grade? “F.” “F.” “Why?” I went in and asked my professor. I had never had an “F” on any important papers before. “Because you plagiarized” he said sternly. “You did not cite your sources. You took someone else’s words and claimed them as your own. You stole.” “Well, tears were forming in my eyes as I heard his accusation. He had every right to put that grade in his grade book with indelible ink. But after his sternness, he listened to my plea for mercy. “Is there anything I can do to bring my grade up?” He paused … what seemed to be for a very long time. Then he said: “If you go back and re-write your whole paper, properly citing every source, I’ll re-grade it.” I accepted his offer. It was not easy. This was not the days of computers. I went back to my manual Smith Corona typewriter and wrote a good paper, with proper citations, making clear what were my own opinions and what were the opinions of others. I turned it in. He graded it. “Now that’s an ‘A’ paper,” he said. “But I’m giving you a ‘B’ because you plagiarized the first time. Never forget not to steal another person’s work.” That was the best “B” I ever got in my life! I became an English Literature major. I also became a preacher, a group of people who notoriously pull sermons out of preaching journals where someone else wrote them. I will not do that. The lesson of mercy from my English professor still stays with me to this day.
Should Jesus have mercy on you; or on me? Once we imagine what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes, the answer seems clearer. Remembering my English class lesson, let me quote what Jesus himself said:
“Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” Lesson learned.
Jeffrey A. Sumner October 25, 2015