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Mercy Means Giving Yourself

By Chuck Alley

Reading from the Gospel of Luke, 10:25-37

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”


The prophet Micah proclaimed to the people that God requires them to act justly and love mercy and…walk humbly with [their] God (6:8), and that God delights to show mercy (7:18). In the book of Hosea, God tells his people that he desires mercy, not sacrifice (6:6). Again, according to the prophet Zechariah, This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion for one another” (7:9). And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples that those who are merciful will be shown mercy (Matt. 5:7).

If mercy is so central to our proper relationship of obedience to God, then what is it to look like in our lives? Fundamentally, mercy is the gift of ourselves. To show mercy is to abandon our agenda, schedule, task list, immediate objective, comfort, even our safety, in order to be with others in their need. Like the Samaritan, we are called to show mercy and compassion to our neighbor. It is an interruption in our lives and interferes with our plans because it is a call to concentrate all our thoughts and efforts on that neighbor. It means that when disaster strikes, we do not go about business as usual. Nor do we use others’ suffering as an opportunity to show off our own ethical prowess. We put all this aside, fall on our knees in prayer for comfort for the comfortless, healing for gaping wounds, and the light of hope in the depths of darkness. Each in our own way must turn aside from self-seeking agendas and seek the temporal and spiritual welfare of the victims of evil — not just today, but continually until God’s peace is restored.

Chuck Alley is a retired Episcopal priest and an adjunct associate professor of anatomy on the medical faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. He and his wife, Scottie, have three children and nine grandchildren.

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