Thursday, March 13, 2008


I went to Ben Franklin High School in New Orleans (Go Falcons!). The tradition was for each senior to submit a quotation for the yearbook which embodied something about which they felt strongly, which described them in some way, or which they simply wanted associated with them for posterity. Some seniors chose pithy and humorous but superficial quotations (“If you worry about missing the boat, remember the Titanic!”) but most took it seriously. I had a hard time coming up with something, not being a terribly thoughtful teenager. But I finally decided that I really liked the Indian proverb on a plaque in my friend Jeff Gum’s dining room. It read “Grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

My good friend Steve Moroney, who was instrumental in my baptism into Christ at age 20, chose Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” I remember wondering why he found that so meaningful. Steve was, and is, a deep guy. It just seemed to me that he would have submitted something, well, more profound.

The older I get the more I appreciate the depth, challenge, spiritual power, and richness of Jesus’ teaching about mercy. There is an admonition I think of a lot, and do my best to live out: “Make charitable judgments.” Give people the benefit of the doubt. Be merciful in your assumptions. The famous playwright and novelist, Oscar Wilde, who was known for his barbed wit, once said, “When I was young I admired clever people; now that I am older I admire kind people.” Kindness and mercy are much harder than cleverness.

Earlier this decade, the executive editor of the New York Times, Howell Raines, was forced out by the Times’ publisher amidst the Jayson Blair journalism scandal. Raines had made his mark as a “hard charging” newspaperman. Unfortunately, this described his way with people. Few if any of his staff supported him during the turmoil preceding his firing; most even undermined him. As one of them put it later, “He treated people on the way up as if he never expected to encounter them on the way down.”

And now Elliott Spitzer, governor of New York, has discovered the painful corollary of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:7, “Cursed are the unmerciful, for they will not receive mercy.” While serving as New York’s attorney general, Spitzer built a reputation as a ruthless ethical crusader (consider the irony of that description). Many who were the subjects of his investigations felt he went too far. He was particularly unaffected by what his indictments did to peoples’ reputations, regardless of whether they were found guilty or innocent. He was criticized, for instance, for “pressuring ethically wayward but not necessarily criminal companies into agreeing to unfairly large settlements by threatening CEO’s with prolonged legal battles” (Time, 3/13/08, John Cloud, “Was Spitzer Destined to Fall?”) In short, the man showed no mercy. As he said to the Republican leader in the state assembly after becoming governor, “I’m a steamroller, and I’ll roll over you.”

Consequently, when federal wiretaps uncovered his visits to a prostitute, and it was subsequently revealed that this has been a regular practice of his for a decade, even as he passed tougher laws against other men doing the same, he was forced to resign within 48 hours. No one stood up for him. No one defended him. The steamroller got steamrolled.

Mercy is blessed. Both ways.


Blogger andrew said...

While I do not have any Bible verses that I consider my 'favorite', there are some that seem to speak to me above the rest. One of those is Proverbs 3:27-28:

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor, "Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow" - when you now have it with you.

10:38 AM  

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