Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained...."

Quick!  Before you go any further, you can get bonus points for knowing whence the quote in the title comes (without using the Internet!)

In my mercy, I will let you continue even if you don't know the quote, but if you want to see in in context, look below the break. The quote actually doesn't come up at all in the homily; as I said, it's bonus material.  

Today is the second Sunday of Easter and the feast of divine mercy.  They go together.  For hundreds of years Christians have read on the Sabbath after Easter the story of the ten apostles meeting Jesus on Easter Sunday night.  In the last thirty years they've celebrated Divine Mercy on this same day.  But God's infinite timeless plan saw both in the same outside-of-time moment, and that's why they line up.  Come hear why they connect.

Click here to listen or download  (10 minutes)
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Ok.  So, the quote is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.  When Portia, Antonio's brave and brilliant girlfriend, is trying to save him in court from getting a pound of his flesh excised by Shylock, she gives a beautiful description of mercy.  Antonio has just admitted that he made a deal with Shylock, by which he should have to give a pound of flesh if he didn't repay his loan by a set date.  I'll give their words then explain how perfect this is for any discussion of mercy.

Then must the Jew be merciful.


On what compulsion must I? tell me that.


The quality of mercy is not strained,
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:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. 

(credit: MIT's Shakespeare bounty.  Thanks!)

Shylock asks a great question: Why should he forgive the debt of flesh?  By what compulsion can he be made to do so?  And Portia's response is that mercy is by its definition not the kind of thing that can be "compulsed".  It's, by its nature, a gift freely given.  Think of "strained" here not like stretched or stressed, but as the root of "constrained" or "restrained".  Nothing holds, forces, makes, compels, or requires any mercy.  That's its beauty.  

It reminds me of a story about an emperor touring a village near his capitol.  He meets a woman who comes up begging for the life of her son who is in jail and sentenced to die.  The emperor is confused by the pushy, weepy woman, but when an official explains who her son is, he straightens up and sternly says,"I'll do no such thing.  I know this case!  His crime was heinous! "  She replied, "Yes.  Please, lord.  Mercy."  He thundered at her: "Never!  His crimes demand retribution."  And she begged again, "Mercy, lord!  Lock him up, banish him, but don't kill him."  To which he replied, "Not on my life.  He deserves death."  And from the ground she cried out, "I know, I know.  That's why I beg your mercy."  The emperor cursed and spat, and he said to her coldly, "He doesn't deserve mercy."  But at this her demeanor changed: she straightened up, looked him full in the face, and said steadily as if correcting a mistaken child, "Lord, if he deserved it,it wouldn't be mercy."

Dear Jesus, help me remember that too.

1 comment:

  1. It was so nice to be suprised by your presence on KVSS this morning! I had just dropped off the kiddos at school...I know they would have been excited to hear you. Refreshing as always...God bless you!
    The Geaghans in Wahoo