Friday, December 16, 2016

Mercy – Greater love has no one than this

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
– Jesus (John 15:13)

Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
– Paul (Romans 5:8)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Paul (Romans 12:19-21)

The following story is famous among Mennonites. It comes from the scandalous era when Christians were killing Christians. Even so, it demonstrates what it looks like to take Jesus seriously on the way to mercy.

Dirk Willems was captured and imprisoned in his home town of Asperen in the Netherlands. Knowing that his fate would be death if he remained in prison, Dirk made a rope of strips of cloth and slid down it over the prison wall. A guard chased him.

Frost had covered a nearby pond with a thin layer of ice. Dirk risked a dash across it. He made it to safety, but the ice broke under his pursuer who cried for help. Dirk believed the Scripture that a man should help his enemies. He immediately turned back and pulled the floundering man from the frigid water.

In gratitude for his life, the man would have let Dirk escape, but a Burgomaster (chief magistrate) standing on the shore sternly ordered him to arrest Dirk and bring him back, reminding him of the oath he had sworn as an officer of the peace.

Back to prison went Dirk. He was condemned to death for being re-baptized, allowing secret church services in his home and letting others be baptized there.

Dirk was burned to death on May 16, 1569. The wind blew the flame away from him so that his death was long and miserable. Time and again Dirk cried out to God. Finally, one of the authorities could not bear to see him suffer any longer and ordered an underling to end his torment with a quick death.
(adapted from DirkWillem Burned after Rescuing Pursuer by Dan Graves)

One thing to note is that Dirk Willems did try to escape. The way of mercy dose not require that one to seek martyrdom. One need not stay in an abusive relationship, for example. 

But following Jesus does mean being prepared to forgive even those who wish us harm. It requires risking our own safety to help those in need, including those who we perceive to be a threat.

Would I go back over the ice to rescue my enemy? Would you? Are we willing to risk our own safety by practicing the radical mercy of God (Matthew 5:43-48)? Who might be in need of that mercy now?

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