The Price of Mercy

Luke 6:

27 "But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either.

(NET Bible®)

Ouch! Turning the other cheek hurts! Whoever says that getting into the Kingdom is free hasn’t taken full account of the price of mercy and forgiveness. This includes those non-Christian scoffers who say that Christianity is for the weak or that religion is the opiate of the masses.

Taking a smack on the cheek is painful. Not retaliating is humiliating. Not only that, it often invites further abuse. It is far more pleasant and often safer to respond in kind when your rights are violated. Forgiving debts is expensive. It is one thing to loan to a neighbor in need, and quite another to forego repayment. And it is harder yet to forgive a debt owed by a thief or a vandal. Getting into the Kingdom is indeed a pearl of great price.

Matthew 5:

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.

40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also.

41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor' and 'hate your enemy.'

44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you,

45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don't they?

47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don't they?

48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(NET Bible®)

But is it necessary for Christians to forgive all debts and trespasses? If so, nearly all of us are in deep trouble—including me. If you rob me, I am likely to call the police. Ditto if you slap me. I am acting on the assumption that these mandates are not so much always-applicable commandments as requirements for receiving certain blessings. (This could be a grave error!)

Forgiving others is a requirement for receiving divine forgiveness, and I certainly need quite a bit of that. I have plenty of sins on my record, including sins performed when I knew better. So I do forgive some sins against me. I am also expending a great deal of effort trying to get the government to be more merciful. I am blessed to live in a democratic republic, but with this blessing comes responsibility: to stand idly by while my government persecutes others is to be partly responsible.

The Christian obligation for mercy was part of my motivation for Libertarian activism. Freeing people unjustly imprisoned is an act of mercy. It also has a price: political activism is quite expensive unless you are on the winning side, and you are corrupt. But it is considerably cheaper than turning the other cheek, and much more fun. Alas, such efforts were unsuccessful; I know not whether I get any credit for them.

The efforts were also likely suboptimal even were they successful. There are circumstances where invoking the Might of the State may well be the most merciful option. Even the borderline anarchy documented in the Book of Judges included a mandatory welfare system. There are other circumstances as well, as we will explore in the next chapter.