What We Saw In India
February 18, 1996
About 12 hours ago our plane finally landed at O’Hare Airport. I do not think I have ever been happier to come home than I was last night. During the last 19 days our team traveled 42,000 miles, took eight different plane trips and one 24-hour train ride, and in the process visited Amsterdam, Singapore, Nepal and India.
The trip itself was long and hard. This was my 10th missions trip. Although I had previously traveled to Paraguay, Columbia, Haiti (3 times), Belize (2 times), and Russia (2 times), nothing prepared me for India.
To begin with the obvious, India is the second most populated country on earth. One out of every six people in the world lives in India. The population is 960 million and growing rapidly. They say that by the year 2015 India will have overtaken China as the largest nation on earth.
That, I think, is one of the enduring images of India in my mind. There are people everywhere—not just a few, but hundreds of thousands of people crowded together in huge cities and in numberless villages across the countryside. To put matters in perspective, India is roughly four times the population of the United States and is growing much faster. I remember feeling overwhelmed during my early days in Raxaul with the sights and sounds of so many people surrounding us on every side. It felt like standing on the seashore as a wave of humanity washes over you, followed by another wave, and then another, then looking out and seeing waves of humanity as far as the eye can see.
Nothing I saw in Haiti or Russia prepared me for the sense of so many people spread over such a vast expanse of land. Sometimes you hear the word “teeming” applied to the nations of Asia. It suggests an image of crowds of people surging this way and that. After having fought my way up the crowded, dirty, soot-clogged main street of Raxaul and being jostled by rickshaws and motorcycles, I can understand the concept of “teeming” masses much better.
A Light in the Darkness
Then there is the poverty. Streets filled with beggars. Families living in shacks, lean-tos, homes made from cardboard, sleeping in the street, under bridges, whole families crowded into a space less than the average American bathroom. Open sewers. Flies. Disease. Malnutrition. AIDS. Drugs. Starvation.
But that is only part of the story. We spent most of our time at Duncan Hospital in Raxaul. It is named after Dr. Duncan, a Scottish doctor who founded the hospital in 1930 because he wanted to shine a light into the darkness of Nepal. Over the years the hospital has become the leading medical center in north Bihar, each year serving over 100,000 patients. Much of the medical care is either free or given for the equivalent of a few pennies. Most people are dirt-poor so the hospital could not survive without outside help.
Dr. Aletta Bell has served in India for 31 years, the last 22 at Duncan Hospital. She is so greatly loved that people travel great distances to meet her. The hospital itself is entirely Indian-run, with national doctors and nurses staffing every department. They also have a first-class nursing school, with graduates going to hospitals all over India.
The mission compound includes a hospital, the nursing school, a Christian day school, dormitories, administrative buildings, and some private homes for the medical staff. The whole complex would probably encompass two or three blocks.
We were the first team from Calvary to visit Dr. Bell in the entire 31 years she has spent in India. My most vivid impression of her is that she is a whirldwind of activity. She never stops. I don’t know if she sleeps because I never saw her close her eyes. From dawn to dusk she goes from place to place, usually working out in the villages as part of the communiy health program. While she appreciates the hospital, her heart is really with the village work because that’s where the front-line work is being done.
When you talk with Dr. Bell, her eyes sparkle and a smile is never far from her lips. Considering how difficult it is to live in India, her joy is amazing. She doesn’t feel that she has sacrificed anything by coming to the mission field. This is what God called her to do and she has been glad to do it.
I think she would be embarrassed to hear herself referred to as a prime example of our text this morning, but she is. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy,” he could have been referring to Dr. Bell and her co-workers at the Duncan Hospital in India.
I. The Elements of Mercy
The principle Hebrew word for mercy is racham, which speaks of an emotional response to the needs of others. It means to feel the pain of another person so deeply that you are compelled to do something about it. The ancients believed that the seat of the emotions was found in the intestinal area. That is why the King James Version uses the phrase “bowels of mercy.” When we say, “I have a gut feeling” about something, we are using the same concept.
Mercy is an attribute of God’s character. 1 Chronicles 21:13 tells us that “his mercy is very great.” Nehemiah 9:31 speaks of “your great mercy.” Luke 1:78 tells us that Christ came because of the “tender mercies” of our God. Romans 9:16 says that God’s election springs from God’s mercy. Ephesians 2:4 says that God is “rich in mercy.” And Hebrews 4:16 tells us that when we come to Jesus in prayer we are coming to a throne of grace where we can receive mercy and find grace. According to Titus 3:5, God saved us because of his mercy. James 5:11 declares that “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.
These famous lines from “The Merchant of Venice” by William Shakespeare are true in every way. Mercy always comes down. It starts with God and moves to man, it begins in heaven and ends on earth. You don’t bargain for mercy because to make a bargain you’ve got to have something to offer, and we have nothing to offer God.
And mercy is indeed like the gentle rain that softens the hard soil of the human heart.
The gentle rain seems a weak thing. But watch it falling on a plot of hard, dry, trampled earth. After awhile there is a softening, and life begins to push up through the mellowed ground. So with the mind of man. When we let thoughts of divine mercy drop repeatedly on the gardens of our imaginations, our hearts are softened. (Ralph Sockman, The Higher Happiness, p. 111.)
Grace and Mercy
We often use the words grace and mercy as if they were synonyms, but they actually reflect slightly different meanings.
Grace is God’s solution to man’s sin.
Mercy is God’s solution to man’s misery.
Grace covers the sin, while mercy removes the pain. Grace forgives, while mercy restores. Grace gives us what we don’t deserve, mercy withholds what we do deserve.
Grace covers the sin, while mercy removes the pain.
Someone has said that mercy means, “The personal God has a heart.”
Mercy includes three elements:
1. “I see the need”—that’s recognition.
2. “I am moved by the need”—that’s motivation.
3. “I move to meet the need”—that’s action.
Mercy is more than a feeling, but not less than that. Mercy begins with simple recognition that someone is hurting around you. But mere seeing or feeling isn’t mercy. Mercy moves from feeling to action. It is active compassion for those in need.
Mercy is love in action.
The Uninvited Guest
When Jesus described the Judgment of the Nations in Matthew 25, he explicitly said that the judgment would be based on mercy to those in need. “I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me.” If anyone says, “Lord, we never saw you hungry or naked or in prison,” the Lord will answer, “Since you did it for my brothers, you did it for me.”
And still wherever mercy shares
Her bread with sorrow, want and sin
And love the beggar’s feast prepares,
The Uninvited Guest comes in.
Unheard, because our ears are dull,
Unseen, because our eyes are dim,
He walks our earth, the Wonderful,
And all good deeds are done to him.
Jesus the Uninvited Guest comes in. And all good deeds are done to him.
II. The Power of Compassion
To illustrate the power of compassion let’s consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this parable in response to a lawyer who questioned him regarding eternal life. Eventually the disucssion turned on a single question: “Who is my neighbor?” To answer that question, Jesus told about a man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
If you’ve ever been to the Holy Land you know how realistic that is. The road from Jersualem to Jericho drops 3500 feet in only 22 miles. Beyond the road winds through the mountains, it was a favorite haven for thieves and terrorists. No one ever traveled that road alone if they could help it. The Jews even called it “the bloody way.”
You know the story. As the man traveled on the road, robbers fell upon him, beat him up, stripped him, robbed him, and left him for dead. Soon a priest came along who was traveling the same road. I think he was returning from the big Promise Keepers conference in Jerusalem. When he saw that poor man lying by the road, he crossed over to the other side and kept on walking. Pretty soon a Levite came by and did the same thing.
They Would Have Stopped If …
At this point I need to stop and say that the priest and the Levite were not being intentionally uncharitable. Both men were trained in the Old Testament law. If there had been a law which said, “You shall stop and help a nearly-dead man when you see him lying by the road,” they would have stopped. Since there was no such law, they felt no obligation to stop. And they didn’t.
Then along came the Samaritan. It’s hard for us to fully understand how much the Jews despised the Samaritans. They considered them inferior half-breeds. Observant Jews not only would not speak to the Samaritans, they wouldn’t even speak of them. That’s why at the story, when asked which man was the true neighbor, the lawyer (now fully humiliated and exposed by Jesus) answers, “The one who showed mercy on him.” He still wouldn’t say the word “Samaritan!”
We like to talk today about the “Good” Samaritan and even name hospitals after him. The Jews wouldn’t even have named an outhouse after a Samaritan.
But it was the Samaritan who stopped. When he saw the man, he bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He then put the man on his donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and told the innkeeper to look after the man until he returned. He even promised to pay for any extra expenses.
All this for a man he had never met, who was probably a Jew, and who, for all he knew, would not have done the same for him. It’s not as if the man on the road “deserved” help. He didn’t, but he sure needed help. The Samaritan owed him nothing. But he stopped anyway. That’s being merciful.
As Jesus told the story, he emphasized that all three men “happened” upon the man by the side of the road. No one planned on seeing him. No one got up that day and said, “I wonder if I’ll have a chance to be merciful today.” It happened by chance. That’s the way it always is. It happens as we travel down the road of life, turn the corner and there before we see a man beaten, stripped, bloody, and unconscious. He didn’t plan to be there and we didn’t plan to see him.
What will we do? Will we show mercy?
The priest was there . .. the Levite was there … the Samaritan was there. All “happened” to pass by. One man, the least likely, stopped to help.
We constantly meet people who need us and whom we need. People with needs are not burdens. They are gifts from God to give away what he has given us. (Lloyd Ogilvie)
Remember, Jesus told this story in answer to a simple question: Who is my neighbor? Let us now attempt an answer: My neighbor in need who crosses my path whose need I am able to meet.
The real question is not, Who is my neighbor? but “What kind of neighbor will I be?”
What kind of neighbor will I be?
Note the final words of Jesus to this curious lawyer: “Go and do likewise.” Mercy demands that we do something. Mercy is not simply a gushy sentimental feeling for those who hurt. It is back-straining, time-consuming involvement in the lives of others. It’s lighting a candle in a dark room.
Mercy is Christianity with boots on. “Go and do.” That is always God’s word to the believer.
III. The Fountain of Blessing
This beatitude begins and ends with mercy. Those who are merciful will receive God’s mercy. And yet Jesus is not telling us that God’s mercy depends on our mercy. Everything in the spiritual life begins and ends with God. As God pours out his mercy on us, we respond by showing mercy to others, which causes us to receive even more mercy from God.
We need this because we are sinners worse than we know. Even the best Christian would have no hope of heaven without the shining mercy of God. If God did not forgive and keep on forgiving, if he did not continue to pour out his mercy like the “gentle rain from heaven,” we would be utterly and completely lost.
This beatitude is based on the law of reciprocity. Those who show mercy will obtain mercy. There are many verses like this. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
But this beatitude assumes that we have already received God’s mercy. The merciful man is truly “mercy-full.” He is filled with God’s mercy. By definition, the only people who receive mercy are those who don’t deserve it. If you deserve it, it’s not mercy. Therefore, the basis for this verse is not how you want others to treat you but how God has already treated you. “Do unto others as God has done unto you.”
The merciful man is filled with God’s mercy.
I receive mercy from God.
I show mercy to others.
I receive more mercy from God. I have more in the end than I had in the beginning.
Warren Wiersbe summed it up in his usual pithy way:
“Mercy is a bridge God built to mankind. Mercy is a bridge we build toward others.”
Mercy Not Always Rewarded
By the way, some have wondered if this verse is promising a kind of earthly reward for the merciful. That is, if we show mercy to others, may we assume they will in turn show mercy to us. In a perfect world, that would indeed be the case. And occasionally it does happen that the Golden Rule actually works. As we do unto others as we would have them do unto us … they respond in the same kindly fashion.
But we live in a fallen world, among men and women who are by nature selfish and evil. It should not surprise that in a world where meekness is called weakness and kindness is called folly, that mercy given will be repaid with a bitter harvest.
You can’t reform the world by showing mercy. Why do it then? Mostly because Our Lord himself showed the way when he cried out from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” To the end, Jesus epitomized the way of love. In his dying moments, he prayed for God to forgive his executioners.
He died anyway.
Such is the fate of the merciful in this world. God calls us to follow in his steps. The world may not reward you for showing mercy. Show it anyway. Your friends may take advantage of you. Have mercy anyway. You may be scorned and mocked as a softie. Better that you be thought too soft than to have a hard heart.
The Over-Plus and the After-Crop
Several centuries ago a puritan writer named Thomas Watson offered this explanation for the promise attached to this beatitude. He said that it is only the merciful who have “good security” in heaven. They will be paid with an “over-plus.”
“For every wedge of gold you part with, you will have a weight of glory. For a cup of cold water, a river of pleasure at God’s right hand. The interest comes to far greater than the principal. Your after crop of glory will be so great that though you spend a thousand years you will not take it all in.”
Thus does God reward his merciful children.
Mercy is one of God’s chief attributes. It is a fundamental part of his basic nature.
When I show mercy, I am in the place of God in someone’s life.
I am doing to them what God would do. The world cannot see mercy in the abstract, but only in the concrete. If you and I don’t show mercy, where in the world will it be found?
Copies of God
Jesus died to create a race of merciful men and women—people who have received mercy and now gladly give it away to others. You and I are called to be those people!
In the past few days I have seen the mercy of God at work through the skillful hands of the doctors and nurses at the Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, India. I have seen it at the youth hostel in Hetauda, Nepal. I have seen it at the Champak community health center.
Blessed is Dr. Aletta Bell, for she will obtain mercy.
Blessed is Dr. Sontosh and Dr. Sairah, for they will obtain mercy.
Blessed is Pastor Bogh, for he will obtain mercy.
Blessed is Richie … and Everett … Monica … and Flo … and Dr. Rao … and Sushil … an d Mr. R. K. Pant. And hundreds of other heroes of the faith.
They are living proof that God blesses his merciful children. Day by day, and hour by hour, through deeds of kindness and words of compassion, they are bringing the love of God to the people of India and Nepal.
Blessed are they, for they do not hoard God’s mercy but continually give it away.
When Alexander Maclaren finished his exposition of this verse, he closed by challenging his congregation to “move among men as copies of God.” What a powerful image that is—to be “copies of God.”
What did we see in India? We saw men and women, little known by the world, who day by day are serving as copies of God for the people of India and Nepal.
Truly they are blessed, and we were blessed to be among them for a few days.
As I think about what we saw on our trip, the words of Jesus come to mind. “Go and do likewise.”