Mercy for the Underdog (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 2, 2014)

I’m not normally a fan of violence, but there’s something about rooting for the underdog. Remember the final scene in the original 1984 version of The Karate Kid, when Daniel crane-kicks his opponent upside the head? Throughout the movie, didn’t you want to see those Cobra Kai punks get what they deserved? Poor Daniel was bullied and beaten up repeatedly, and all Mr. Miyagi seemed to care about was getting his house painted and car washed.

We’ve been talking about the beatitudes from Matthew 5 for the past few weeks, and one part that has often stumped me is verse 7 (NIV): “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Our hero Daniel certainly wasn’t shown any mercy by the Cobra Kai. On the contrary, their sensei (leader) announced to one class: “We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”

If we interpret Matthew 5:7 to mean that we’ll be shown mercy by those to whom we are merciful, then I’m afraid we might be in for a rude awakening. Sure, people can turn their lives around and make amends, but I don’t think that’s what the verse is referring to. Think about the Daniel story. He was shown mercy, but it came in the form of Mr. Miyagi’s loving-kindness to him. He replaced Daniel’s busted-up bicycle, taught him life lessons alongside martial arts, and served as a sort of father figure. He didn’t shower Daniel with presents to spoil him, but he gave him the types of things that he needed, when and how he needed to receive them.

In spiritual terms, I have often heard mercy and grace explained as: mercy means not getting what you do deserve, and grace is getting what you don’t deserve. I think the two work hand-in-hand, as Mr. Miyagi showed to Daniel. The problem is, like Daniel, oftentimes we don’t understand why God allows things to fall into place the way he does, so we throw up our hands and blame him. We get angry at him for making us “wax on, wax off” the car, when what he’s really trying to teach us is a much more valuable life lesson. He does show us mercy every day, if only we’ll be alert to it.

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