Fair vs. Mercy

“That’s not fair!” 

Said every child ever.  

Including me. 

If my brother got something I wanted it wasn’t fair. 

If he was asked to help my dad outside while I was stuck inside cleaning it wasn’t fair. 

If I was punished along with my brother it really wasn’t fair. 

If someone I was extra kind to in the past was mean to me it wasn’t fair. 

If I didn’t receive the award I thought I deserved, but it went to another colleague instead of me, it wasn’t fair. 

If their team got the large budget, but mine had been working behind the scenes tirelessly without a budget, it wasn’t fair. 

Okay, maybe it’s not just children. If we’re honest it’s adults, too. We want life to be fair. Well, most of the time. When it’s in our favor.   

When I look at my sin, I do not want it to be fair. I don’t want to get what I deserve. I want to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. I want to live in freedom and experience being rightly connected to our Heavenly Father even though I mess up daily and don’t deserve that gift. 

As Jesus was teaching his disciples on the mountain in Matthew 5 he said, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 

Mercy is not getting what we deserve for our wrong-doing. It’s forgiveness of our debt. Not having to pay back what we owe. Our accounts payable column is cleared. Our slate wiped clean. A fresh start. That sounds like an amazing gift, but it is not particularly fair.  


Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18 about this very topic. “How often should I forgive someone when they sin against me? The law only requires me to forgive someone three times. What if I doubled that mercy and added one for good measure and forgave someone seven times?” (my paraphrase) 

Jesus responded, “I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven,(Matthew 18:22). Most commentaries agree that Jesus wasn’t suggesting that we count the number of times we show mercy to someone up to 490 times, but rather that we extend forgiveness an unlimited amount of times. That surely doesn’t seem fair. 

Jesus continued in this same chapter of Matthew with a parable – a story with a spiritual meaning – about a servant who was shown great mercy. He compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants. In this process he discovered a man owed him a colossal amount of money. In today’s economy it is estimated that the debt was the equivalent of at least twelve million dollars. Since the man was not able to pay this huge debt the king ordered that he and his family be sold for payment. 

The servant fell on his knees and begged for the king to be patient with him.  “I will pay back everything,” he promised. Jesus said the king took pity on the man and cancelled the entire debt and let him go. 

Then this same man (whose very large debt had just been forgiven) found that one of his servants owed him the equivalent of a few dollars. He grabbed this man and began to choke him demanding, “Pay back what you owe me!” His fellow servant dropped to his knees and begged him to be patient with him, so he could pay him back. But the man refused and had his servant thrown into prison. This upset many who knew him, and they told the king everything that had happened.   

The king called the servant in and said, “You wicked servant. I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to be patient. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) Then the king ordered that the man be tortured in jail until he could pay back all that he owed.   

At the end of this story Jesus challenges us. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” 

The first servant should have been full of mercy. Merciful. Because he had been forgiven much. But, instead he cruelly withheld mercy from his fellow servant, and in the end was tortured instead of living a blessed life.   

I’d like to think that if I was shown the same kind of mercy that the king in this parable showed his servant that I would live my life full of mercy for the people around me. Oh wait. I have been shown that kind of mercy. When Jesus died on the cross I was given the colossal gift of mercy. I have been forgiven of my sin debt. I get to live in freedom enjoying a personal relationship with Jesus because of what He did for me. Because of his infinite mercy I am not getting what I deserve – eternal separation from God, but instead I have the promise of eternal life with Him when I die. Thankfully, it is not fair! 

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Maybe if I fixed my eyes on God’s mercy – on what He has given me – instead of what others have done or do to me – I would live a blessed life sharing mercy with others. Perhaps, I would stop focusing on what’s fair and what’s not and picture the difficult people in my life in view of God’s mercy to me. How then might I treat the homeless person who has an addiction keeping him from holding a job and a roof over his head? The woman who told my friend behind my back I didn’t deserve that position? The guy from the office who spews hatred on social media? The friend who makes bad decisions with men and now needs a ride to a court hearing? The neighbor who wants to borrow a tool from me but whose daughter lied about my daughter at school?   

I used to teach across the hall from a colleague who had a sign in her fourth grade classroom that said, “Fair isn’t equal.” It took the “It’s not fair!” mantra right out of the mouths of her students.   

I’m glad life isn’t fair. I’m so grateful that I have been shown mercy by the Most High God. I want to live the blessed life that Jesus talks about in Matthew 5, so I think I need to do a heart check. I need to stop measuring what is fair around me and start looking for ways to show mercy. I want to be full of mercy because I want to continue to receive the gift of mercy. 

JH profile pic

Jennifer Hiltebeitel and her husband, Eric, live in Malvern and have been members of Hope for almost 20 years. They found this church through the yellow pages in the phone book about three weeks after they returned from their honeymoon. Jennifer is the Director of the Orphan-Widow Ministry at Hope, leads a small group of 7th-8th grade girls on Sunday mornings and looks forward to studying God’s Word every week with her Morning Light friends on Wednesday mornings. She and Eric are blessed with two daughters, Skyler (16) and Cameron (12).


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