The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
– Portia from The Merchant of Venice
The church’s theology of mercy does not exist in a vacuum. Mercy stems from and finds its fulfillment in Christ.
Because Christ is a man, because He came as One who serves, because He felt pain and loneliness, He did not give His gift of salvation in a nebulous, indiscernible way. He gives it to us concretely, visibly. He uses tactile, tangible means—Baptism, the Holy Communion, Absolution—to show mercy.
The reception of these gifts causes the Christian to emulate the Creator. The baptized learn what mercy is by receiving what Christ is. They show mercy because they are shown mercy. They love because they are loved. They forgive because they are forgiven.
And so it is that mercy gives meaning to suffering in Christ. It is living, active. It is the way in which both Christ and His children together care for hurting bodies and struggling souls. It is that which Christians take with them from the doors of the church and carry into all the world and to one another.
Mercy is nothing less than faith grasping hold of his fellow man’s need—of body, of soul, of both—and then deliberatively and profoundly working in service to alleviate the anguish of the person “spiritually or bodily or spiritually-bodily,” says Loehe.
Mercy is done in love, out of service. It gives liberally and without restraint. It expects nothing in return. It desires only to help. It flows from Word, from Sacrament. It waits in anticipation for the cry, “Jesus, Master! Have mercy!” (Luke 17:13) and runs quickly to tend to its source. It is no respecter of persons.
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,” wrote Shakespeare. “It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” And so it is. Our Lord shows mercy to us, and we are blessed. And by His grace, we show mercy to our neighbors, and they are blessed. Christ loves, and so we love. And with our neighbor we rejoice, for truly He does all things well.