Readers Write: Mercy
December 18, 2019
We asked readers to submit brief reflections on words associated with Advent. Below are three responses on the word “mercy.”
by the Rev. Dr. Paul C. Hayes
Years ago, Mayme O’Connor died two days after Christmas. Many in the congregation didn’t recognize the name because mistakenly I called her Mary O’Connor from the time we first met. I’m not certain why I never got her name right, nor why she never corrected the spelling when I would bring her a check from the Diaconate Fund to help pay rent or cover the cost of some other necessity. Perhaps it was because it didn’t matter what I called her as long as she got the support I could provide. When you are in need, sometimes it’s easier not to be known.
Mary would call me collect from a payphone whenever she needed help. Her chronic plea was always the same: “I know I told you I wouldn’t bother you, but could you please help me this month? I promise I won’t call again!” Of course, I knew she would, although I reminded her that our charity was solely for emergencies. But every month was an emergency for Mary.
I recall my first time visiting her. I entered her home, as threadbare as her apparel. Windows were broken and taped back together. Plaster was chipped to the laths. It looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned for years. The refrigerator was almost empty.
Mary often asked me to pray, fearing God was angry with her. I never understood why she believed God wouldn’t hear her pleas, but somehow she turned to me as her sole mediator. Truthfully, I didn’t know enough about her life—what she had done, what she was like—to grasp her sense of shame and judgment. Yet, from all appearances, her life wasn’t particularly blessed.
Ironically, the reason I never stopped reaching out to Mary was because I sensed she was my soul mediator—an “angel in disguise” for me. She kept me grounded with the reality that too many people like her fall through the cracks. Together, we sought help at human services, but public assistance and private charities fail to account for the Mary O’Connors of this world who don’t meet the strict limitations of programs—nameless numbers who scratch by an existence, completely controlled by the fickle charity of the more fortunate. We see them on the streets, but there are many more behind closed doors and broken windowpanes.
I didn’t realize Mayme suffered a devastating stroke until I went to deliver a Christmas basket. All I could do was offer a prayer and a small decorated tree when I went to her hospital room. I recall she grasped my hand and tried to rub it against her pallid cheek. Her tears left me with a tightened throat. She was grateful for me, and yet, I was far more grateful for her. For in Mayme, I realized I was reimagining the Christ I continually long for in Christmas.
As such, “Mary” O’Connor represents the unfixable, perplexing places where God is found. In the end, that recognition may be the divine mercy both she and I needed.
The Rev. Dr. Paul C. Hayes is pastor of Noank (Conn.) Baptist Church.
by Mohammed M. Hossain
Mercy is a central tenant in the religion of Islam.
Muslims say Allah, which is roughly translated to “God.” However, 99 attributes/names are assigned to God in Islam. Ar-Raheem—“the most merciful”—is one of the most often repeated ones. Of the 114 chapters in the Qur’an, 113 of them are prefaced by a reminder of Allah’s beneficence and mercy.
We are told in the Qur’an that mankind is inherently flawed. It is inevitable that we will sin, we will fall short and we will transgress in our ways. However, it is not these moments of weakness that define us. Rather, it’s our ability to repent and turn to our Lord for mercy that do. Sincere repentance is a tenet of Islam, which is the basis of many other actions.
Asking for forgiveness is an action that humbles us and helps us shape our character. The forgiveness that Allah grants is something that must be sought and attained. After sinning, a person needs first to stop the sin and then ask for forgiveness through sincere repentance. In this manner, the mercy from Allah plays two parts in our lives: making sure we no longer sin and making sure that we don’t lose hope in our faith.
In Islam, we are reminded not only of the mercy that Allah has upon us but also the mercy that we are told to have upon others. The Qur’an repeatedly tells us to be kind to those less fortunate, feed the hungry, and care for the widowed and orphaned. Numerous parallels indicate that the respect we show to others on Earth is akin to how we respect our lord.
Our prophet once told us: “He who does not thank the people is not thankful to Allah.”1 These words ring true in other aspects of our religion as well. The word mercy evokes in us a hope—a beacon of light when times are bleak. We are taught that not only should we be given hope for our own sins to be forgiven but also that we should give others hope through our actions and kindness.
While Muslims do not observe Advent or celebrate Christmas, we do believe in the original Bible and the morals which were taught. Our prophet was sent as a mercy to mankind, to give us these principles and morals. Muslims strive to emulate that character and embody the concept of being a mercy to whomever they encounter.
Chaplain Mohammed M. Hossain is a staff chaplain at the Washington, D.C., Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Written with his son, Tahmiid I. Hossain.
by the Rev. Dr. Eddie Cruz
“Mercy” was never in my vocabulary growing up. Running the streets of Chicago, I had to be tough and appear unafraid of everything. Mercy was not a lifestyle I was following.
It was not until I had an encounter with Jesus the Christ that I understood the full weight of John 3:16-17:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (NIV).
Wow! This passage describes God’s abundant mercy and love. For me, mercy is a compassionate treatment for those who do not deserve it or who cannot earn it. I know that I deserved condemnation. Justice demanded payment. However, the word reminded me, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
Advent is a time for hearing anew the wonderful work of redemption. The overwhelming truth is realizing that God—the maker of heaven and Earth—was interested in me and pursued me. I did not know it, but God had a divine appointment set up. Like the psalmist, I echoed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1 NIV).
No matter the season in which you are currently walking, the redemption story never gets old. God’s mercy is displayed in a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Mercy matters. It matters because we all need forgiveness.
Be renewed by Christ and become a miracle of mercy.
The Rev. Dr. Eddie Cruz is American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ national coordinator of Congregational Mission & Discipleship.