An ageing, once beautiful movie actress decided that she wanted a series of portraits taken by the same photographer who had shot some wonderful pictures of her some 30 years earlier. After a considerable search, he was located and commis­sioned to take the pictures. When he delivered the proofs to her she went into a rage and screamed out in dismay, “These pictures don’t do me justice”. The patient photographer explained that she had been 30 years younger when he took those beautiful portraits that she remembered. Then he suggested to her that she didn’t want justice, she needed mercy.

We, too, had better not demand justice, for we are in need of mercy. “If thou, Lord shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” asked the Psalmist. Strangely enough, we seem to have a double standard, for we want others to receive justice while we hope for mercy.

We’ve all seen another driver go right through a stop sign without even slowing down and wished that there had been an officer there to apprehend the offender. Yet which of us has not, at some time, absent­mindedly driven right through one before we realised we had failed to stop. On that occasion, we hoped that no one saw what we did.

Our Lord had told us to “do to others as you would have them do to you. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. For with what measure you use, it will be measured to you”.

If there is one great lesson that Jesus has tried to drive home to us it is this one: he wants us to be merciful. His parable about the king who called his servants before him to settle accounts and found a man who owed him millions but was unable to pay illustrates this point very well. Remember that when he begged, the huge debt was forgiven, yet he went out and confronted his fellow servant and demanded payment of a small debt. He even grabbed the man by the throat and choked him. Because he showed no mercy, he was re-arrested and brought before the king who said, “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This, said Jesus, “Is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart”.

The parable of the beam and the mote underlines this same important lesson. Jesus’ conclusion was, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye”. In some of the newer translations, the mote is called a speck and the beam a plank. Our sins so obscure our vision we cannot clearly see to correct our brother. Yet how human to focus on other’s shortcomings instead of our own.

We really are going to be judged by the same standard that we have used toward others. Based on this, we have to acknowledge that the mercy of God may be extremely limited when it comes time for us to stand before our Lord. God has told us that He has unlimited mercy, for David says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgres­sions from us”. We, ourselves, are the ones who limit the amount of mercy he will show toward us by how merciful we have been to our fellows.

We need not only to know this, but we need to live what we know in our daily dealings with others. “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”