The mercy of God is a constant theme throughout the Bible, and the grace of God – his undeserved favour – is a central theme of the New Testament. A secondary theme that develops is our obligation to pass on to others the mercy we have ourselves received.
When we read these passages on mercy and forgiveness, it can look at first sight as though God’s love is not, as we’d thought, unconditional. It looks as if his love and acceptance of us are made conditional upon our forgiving others and showing them mercy – when we read, for example, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
But when we look more closely, we see that the mercy and forgiveness we are asked to show others is a response to the mercy God has shown us – “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
This means that it is possible for our attitudes and impulses to flow from the wellspring of God’s kindness; for gratitude, and the consciousness of how deeply we are loved, to shape and inform the people we become. But this is more than just a lovely feeling that might wash over us if we are lucky: it is an opportunity held out to us, and a responsibility we are expected to fulfil.
Merciful God, your loving-kindness overflows into our lives without ceasing. You never give up on us; never withhold your love from us. Even when our hearts have been filled with hatred and resentment, in the instant we turn to you, your embrace is ready; we have the chance to start over, our sins all forgiven. So we ask you once again, God of infinite love: have mercy upon us and forgive us; cleanse us from all our sin. Renew a right spirit and a pure heart within us. O God, with whom all things are possible, fill us once again with your joy, with the full flowing of the abundant life that is your gift to us. And, by your grace, so soften our hearts that we may live every day from the power of your forgiveness, as generous with our mercy as you have been to us. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.