Mercy comes in unexpected ways. For instance, shortly after my mother-in-law had twins (giving her four kids three and under, not to mention the three older ones!) my mother-in-law requested of the Lord, “God, give me Mercy!” Not long after she found out she was pregnant again. They named my sister-in-law Mercy. Mercy certainly comes in unexpected ways and Jude captures that in today’s first reading.
Here is the portion of the passage we should draw our attention to, “Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.” In these words we see three mercies and the source of the grace for us to walk in these three mercies.
- “On those who waver, have mercy.” This first mercy is the one that overrides our desire to turn to our brother or sister and tell them, “Get your crap together.” This is particularly a mercy to be shown between believers, and it comes authentically from the awareness that all of us, in some way, must confess the words, “Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.” We all have areas where we are lukewarm. We all have convictions in which we waver. This mercy stops me from being blind to my own wavering by focusing on condemning my brother or sister.
- “Save others by snatching them out of the fire.” The image that pops in my head is ripping keys out of my son’s hands before he shoves them in an electrical outlet (don’t worry we have since put in the outlet plugs). For in that moment my son was ignorant to the danger. In other cases this may be the person who doesn’t yet see the harm they are already experiencing. A simple example is me when I go to the beach and neglect to refresh my sun screen every 3 minutes. I’m going to be burned unless someone snatches me from the fire of those evil UV rays. Spiritually speaking, this can happen to. Someone can bask in habits, sins, mindsets, lifestyles, and choices that are so harmful to them, but they just don’t see it yet. Jude is saying, snatching them from that is a mercy.
- “On others have mercy with fear, abhorring even the outer garment stained by the flesh.” This is the mercy that enters into brokenness, sin, and dysfunction in order to accommodate the person, but not enable the problem. This fear is a holy fear of the destructive nature of sin. This is the mercy one might show to an abuser, a firm mercy that forgives but still moves to protect of the victim at all costs. This is the mercy shown to a friend or family member addicted to drugs. Always loving on them, but never enabling them.
The source of the grace for us to walk in these three mercies is articulated in this line, “Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” To persevere in the love of God means we will love what God loves and hate what God hates. I can only show true mercy when I love someone all the more when they are in sin, because I hate the damage sin does. And I see this love in Christ in the Gospels. When Christ enters the locked upper room where the disciples cower and says, “Peace be with you,” he has profound mercy on those who are wavering. When he calls Zacchaeus from the tree he snatches him from the fire of his greed. And when he reminds Peter who is Master and who his disciple, with the words, “Get behind me, Satan” he has mercy with fear. He sees the temptation to pride in Peter’s advice and abhors the work of the accuser there, while still calling Peter to return to his rightful place, following Jesus.
And why do we have this mercy, because we can look upon all of this through the lens of eternity because He has had mercy on us.
– Spencer Hargadon