Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. [Matthew 5:7 ESV]
Most interpret this verse in both of two ways. We show mercy because we will be shown mercy. We show mercy because we have been shown mercy. Both positions work together to produce mercy in us. One helps define our relationship with God and the other our relationships with people made in the image of God.
However, because of our sinful nature, our bent toward rebellion, we will not either give or show mercy naturally. We must be taught and trained to show mercy. God teaches us to show mercy by being shown mercy by another. We will not recognize mercy for what it is unless we recognize a law or a standard established by a higher authority is violated and we bear the brunt of the consequences. In most instances we have come under conviction and wrath of that authority. We must feel bad because we have been caught (this is not repentance) in order to comprehend mercy to us. Accepting mercy suggests we will turn away from the moral violation and the actions which placed use under wrath.
There are instances where children suffer the consequences of their parents criminal activity, moral stupidity or unanticipated and uncontrollable circumstances. Actively loving children who are cast away from their parents is showing them mercy to them but is also showing mercy to the parent.
In order to receive mercy from God for the consequences of our rebellion against Him we must also be forgiven by Him. Mercy is one side of a coin with forgiveness on the flip side. You cannot have one without the other. What good is it if God says I have forgiven your sin but then does not show mercy after? Or what good is being shown mercy without also being forgiven? Both become hollow acts. So, when we show mercy we show forgiveness.
One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table.
And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [Luke 7:36-50 ESV]
What drove this woman to worship Jesus? Why would she spend hard earned money to buy a perfume only to pour it on the feet of a traveling preacher? She saw something in herself she did not like and something in Jesus she did. She saw herself as a despicable sinner and she saw Jesus as one who accepted her no matter her past. She obviously had been exposed to Jesus at sometime, perhaps hearing him speak, tell stories. She may have even watched Him do a miracle, heal someone who was blind, cleanse a leper, make someone who was lame walk. Jesus was known for telling people their sins were forgiven. No sacrifices. No confessions at the temple. Maybe He had shown her mercy earlier in the day or week or year.
As they were eating at the house of a Pharisee she comes in uninvited and begins anointing His feet with her perfume and her tears. A Pharisee’s home is the very last place you would find a woman with her past. He would not allow her, the wording suggests she was a prostitute, anywhere near. He would not speak to her in the temple or look at her on the street. He would not be seen with her and she would only tease him for his self-righteousness. He hated her and she would have despised him. The only thing they had in common was their country of birth and Jesus. They both wanted to be with Jesus for different reasons. For him, being seen with Jesus would increase his prestige among the people. For her, Jesus accepted her and treated her like a person loved by God even though she was devastatingly aware of her sin.
Jesus both forgave the woman and showed her mercy, accepting her unconditionally in spite of her sordid past. He actively loved her giving her the mercy of forgiveness for her sins, not because she first loved him. She demonstrated her love for him because she recognized his love for her. Conversely, the Pharisees who sat with him judged both Jesus and the sinful woman, rejecting both. In a Pharisee’s mind the debt of sin is so great not even God will forgive let alone show mercy.
The Pharisee never asked for mercy or forgiveness. If he followed his colleagues he would never ask for mercy or forgiveness from Jesus. He was motivated to earn God’s pleasure.
The woman didn’t ask for either forgiveness or mercy nor did she assume Jesus would offer either. She came to worship him. Forgiveness and mercy had been given before she arrived.