Our ultimate goal in showing mercy is to display in our words and deeds the good news of God’s kingdom so that people will worship Jesus as King and begin praying and living for his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
Earlier we saw that the essential building blocks of all human flourishing and happiness are found in four relationships: our relationship with God, ourselves, others, and creation.
All the brokenness in the world is merely a symptom of the deeper problem of brokenness in these relationships that lies at the heart of the human condition. This relational brokenness causes people to be alienated from God, themselves, others, and creation. This alienation is at the heart of the human predicament and the primary reason why humanity does not flourish as God designed.
This is why there is so much physical, spiritual, social, cultural, economic, and political brokenness. And this is why there is so much suffering, violence, poverty, disease, and injustice in the world.
Humanity and creation are in desperate need of redemption and restoration to God’s original design. And it’s into this fallen world that Jesus came to declare that God’s original purpose for humanity established at creation still stands.
This is the good news that the Father’s creation, ruined by humanity’s sin, is being redeemed and restored through the person and work of Jesus Christ, by his Spirit, into the kingdom of God.
So what does this have to do with the ministry of mercy?
Everything. Since the root cause of poverty is relational brokenness, the essential goal of mercy ministry must be the alleviation of relational brokenness by helping people be reconciled to God, themselves, others, and creation.
Just as there are different types and degrees of relational brokenness, so there are different types and degrees of corresponding ministries of mercy. Think for a moment of this worst case scenario, someone experiencing severe brokenness and alienation in all four essential relationships in life:
- Relationship with God: They’re alienated from God, lost, under God’s just wrath, and at risk of eternal suffering.
- Relationship with Self: They’re alienated from themselves, filled with shame and self-contempt, often rooted in mental illness.
- Relationship with Others: They’re alienated from their family and former friends, without a community of care and support. They’re alone.
- Relationship with Creation: They’re alienated from work, without an adequate job, housing, food, health, dignity, and purpose.
A chronically homeless person often experiences severe brokenness in all these relationships at once. Some are without Christ, some are mentally ill, chemically addicted, estranged from family and friends, and without an adequate job. So they’re often without adequate, affordable housing, food, health, dignity, and purpose. It’s into this kind of brokenness we’re called to show love and mercy.
No individual or church normally has the ability to meet all the needs of someone experiencing such severe brokenness and alienation. But it’s helpful to understand that the ultimate goal of mercy ministry, although rarely attained, is to help alleviate all their suffering, brokenness, and alienation in all four of their essential relationships in life so they can flourish in life according to God’s design.
The greatest possible alleviation of suffering and the greatest possible human flourishing in this life is only a small foretaste of the life to come. When Jesus returns, he will eliminate all suffering and restore all broken relationships so his followers can flourish on a new earth forever.
In the meantime the Scriptures teach we are living in a unique time between the first coming of Jesus, when he inaugurated God’s promised kingdom on earth, and his second coming, when he will bring God’s promised kingdom to earth in all its fullness. God’s kingdom has already come partially on earth, but it has not yet come fully like it will when Jesus returns to make all things new.
Jesus’ acts of mercy to the poor were not just displays of God’s love. They were also intentional displays and foretastes of God’s coming kingdom on earth. Jesus didn’t heal everyone, and those he healed were only healed temporarily. Even those he raised from the dead, later got sick and died.
The reason Jesus “temporarily healed” people was to make God’s invisible kingdom “partially visible” over broken bodies and souls so that people would worship and honor him as the promised King and begin longing and praying for the fullness of his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
This concept of God’s king and kingdom coming to earth partially at Jesus’ first coming, and then coming to earth fully at Jesus’ second coming, was a new and confusing concept to the Jewish people. They anticipated the coming of God’s king and kingdom only in the final sense of him immediately bringing all things under his rule and making all things new.
This is why John the Baptist was so confused about Jesus identity and mission. Jesus’ ministry was not at all what John expected for the Messiah. Jesus was not defeating and ruling over all the evil governing authorities unjustly oppressing the Jews. Instead John was sitting in a jail under the evil ruler Antipas, about to have his head cut off for preaching righteousness and justice.
Filled with doubts, John sent two of his closest disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Matthew records Jesus’ answer:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matt 11:4-6)
Jesus is telling John that his acts of mercy give evidence that he is the anointed King that the prophets foretold would come proclaiming good news to the poor. Then Jesus graciously encourages John not to allow this partial display of God’s king and kingdom to cause him to stumble.
Again, what does this have to do with the ministry of mercy? Again, everything!
Just as Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom to the poor in the first century, he continues to proclaim it today by his Holy Spirit and through his Church. As the visible body of Christ, God’s people are called to be his hands and feet showing his mercy to those who suffer from broken relationships with God, themselves, others, and creation.
Just as there are many different types and degrees of relational brokenness, so there are many different types and degrees of corresponding ministries of mercy. Acts of mercy include everything from giving a thirsty stranger a cup of cold water to sacrificing decades of your life to care for suffering widows and orphans.
But our ultimate goal in showing mercy must always be to display in our words and deeds the good news of God’s kingdom, so that people will worship Jesus as King and begin living for his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
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