Extending mercy towards someone over whom we hold power, often someone who has hurt or harmed us, let us set aside normal questions and feelings of fairness, blame, justice, or revenge.
All traditions teach about the quality of mercy whether we choose to put the teaching into practice is entirely up to us as individuals, communities or societies. Mercy , it would appear being so enmeshed in the awful pain through which it needs to be offered is one of the hardest spiritual challenges, and we have hundreds if not thousands of `valid' reasons to prevent us from extending it.
I offer here a story from the Middle East shared by a Leba nese teller, when a group was discussing the true life story of Azim Khamisa, who not only forgave the shooter of his son, but who, with the young killer's grandfather, educates young people about non-violence, and who is working to rehabilitate the young man himself.
The traditional story tells of a sheikh who lived in a desert. One dark night he was sitting at the opening of his tent, unable to sleep, overcome with unbearable sadness; his eldest son had been killed a few days earlier. Suddenly , through the night, a stranger came running by and fell at the feet of the sheikh. “O Sheikh, save me. My enemies chase me to kill me. I am exhausted and cannot run any more. All men call you good. Let me stay in your tent for one night.“
The sheikh bid him enter, treating the stranger as his honoured guest. After eating and drinking, the man lay down to sleep.
Very early the next day , the sheikh gently woke the stranger, handing him a bag of gold. “Friend, i hope you slept well. The food has given you some strength, but you must flee before the sun rises. My best horse is readied for you.“
The stranger froze. His face reflected a struggle going on in his mind. Then suddenly he fell at the feet of the sheikh. “O good and noble sheikh! You saved my life; you offer me help. But i now need to tell you i'm the one who killed your son. I cannot go from here. You can kill me; i am ready for this.“
The sheikh was shocked. He sat down with his head in his hands.
Finally he drew out some more gold and gave it to the man, saying, “Here is enough gold to start a new life. Take this and go. I will not kill you. You have been noble enough to confess. How can i be less noble to refuse to forgive you? The thought of revenge had been burning in my mind. Go away and take this terrible feeling of vengeance away from me. Only then will my son rest in peace.
May God forgive us both you for murdering my son and me for keeping revenge and hate in my heart.“
To extend mercy is not easy . Yet without mercy , the world would be a harsher place.
When we think of the grace we have received of all of the times that we have, mercifully, not gotten what we deserved we might desire to extend the same gift to others.