Reporters and city officials gathered at a Chicago railroad station one afternoon in 1953. The person they were meeting was the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner. A few minutes after the train came to a stop, a giant of a man, six feet four inches tall, with bushy hair and a large moustache stepped from the train. Cameras flashed. City officials approached him with hands outstretched. Various ones began telling him how honored they were to meet him.
The man politely thanked them and then, looking over their heads, he asked if he could be excused for a moment. He quickly walked through the crowd until he reached the side of an elderly black woman who was struggling with two large suitcases. He picked up the bags and with a smile, escorted the woman to a bus. After helping her aboard, he wished her a safe journey. Returning to the greeting party he apologized, “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
The man was Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the famous missionary doctor who had spent his life helping the poor in Africa. In response to Schweitzer’s action, one member of the reception committee said with great admiration to the reporter standing next to him, “That’s the first time I ever saw a sermon walking.”
That was an act of mercy. Dr Schweitzer saw a need. He had compassion, and he met the need. The title of this story was: “Forget yourself for others and others will not forget you! The Scripture reference was Matthew 7:12 where Jesus said, “Therefore, however you want others to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Story taken from “God’s Little Devotional Book”)
By contrast, worldly wisdom tends to be self-centered and ego-centered, envying people above them, and treating people beneath them with harshness and disdain. Having worked in a large company for several years, I noted that some people in positions higher than mine would not talk to me, respond to a greeting, or even look at me.. They treated me as if I didn’t exist. The Lord Jesus directed His attention to this kind of behavior in one of His parables.
The parable of the Good Samaritan, in Luke 10:30-37, is one of the most well-known of Jesus’ parables. In it, the priest and levite see the injured man at a distance and cross over to the other side of the road as they pass him. Rather than taking responsibility and showing mercy for a fellow-Jew, they cross over to the other side of the road and treat the person as if he didn’t exist. However, the Samaritan, who was hated by the Jews, felt compassion and made sure that the man was taken care of at his own expense. He had nothing to gain from this other than the satisfaction that he was pleasing God. That was truly an act of mercy on his part.
The apostle James, here in verse 17, describes this fifth evidence of wisdom from above. It is “full of mercy and good fruits” or “controlled by mercy and good fruits”. This word “mercy” is found 78 times in the New Testament Scriptures, and many of those occurrences are associated with the miracles of Jesus Christ. Mercy and good fruits are linked together here. Mercy, or compassion, is an attitude and motivation that is evidenced by “good fruits” or the outward acts of mercy. James expressed that concept earlier, in chapter 2, verses 14-17, when he said, “What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works. Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? James is saying that genuine faith is evidenced by genuine works, and he is also saying that genuine wisdom is evidenced by outward acts of mercy.
We find in Scripture that mercy is closely associated with several other character qualities and behaviors. For example, mercy and love are often found together. Ephesians 2:4 says, “But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love, which He had for us.” Mercy and forgiveness belong together also. Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord belong compassion and forgiveness.”
In his book, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, A. Leonard Griffith tells the story of a young Korean exchange student, a leader in Christian circles at the University of Pennsylvania, who left his apartment on the evening of April 25, 1958, to mail a letter to his parents. As he turned from the mailbox, he was met by eleven leather-jacketed teenage boys. Without a word, they beat him with a blackjack, a lead pipe, and their shoes and fists – and left him lying dead in the gutter.
All Philadelphia cried out for vengeance. The district attorney planned to seek the death penalty for the arrested youths. And then, this letter arrived, signed by the boy’s parents and twenty other relatives in Korea: “Our family has met together and we have decided to petition that the most generous treatment possible within the laws of your government be given to those who have committed this criminal action. . . . In order to give evidence of our sincere hope contained in this petition, we have decided to save money to start a fund to be used for the religious, educational, vocational, and social guidance of the boys when they are released. . . . We have dared to express our hope with a spirit received from the gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins.”
What a testimony of mercy, finding expression in forgiveness! A hymn comes to mind that is a reminder and encouragement to be a vessel of mercy to others. Here is the last stanza and chorus:
Give as ’twas given to you in your need, Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed, Unto your mission be true.
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing to someone today.