“Am I not merciful”. These are the words of the Emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, in the movie Gladiator. He is a vile, evil, and sadistic person, who is filled with paranoia. In a moment when he fears his sister might betray him, he tells her that if she has any such thoughts he will kill her son, his nephew, Lucius.
Looking her in the eyes, he then says, “Am I not merciful”
It’s a great line. I’m thinking about using it with my kids.
But the rule of thumb is if you have to ask, you are probably not. This scene was a perfect window into the human soul. We have this extraordinary ability to take these highest virtues and corrupt them to the lowest level of humanity. We can see ourselves a certain way, but our actions reveal our character.
Mercy or compassion is not failing to hurt someone when we place them in a perilous situation. It is something entirely different.
If you follow Jesus you are called to be compassionate.
In Colossians 3:12 Paul writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Similarly in Ephesians 4:32 he writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
In both of these passages Paul writes to these churches and reminds them what they need to put off. Bitterness, rage, envy, malice, idolatry, sexual immorality. These are not things of God and the sorrow reality is that they come all too easily for us. Other things which might not come as naturally or easily God invites us to put on. To be. He invites us to be kind, humble, loving, gentle, patient, forgiving and compassionate. They are more than thinking a certain way, they are actions.
We know compassion when we see it. It was Mother Theresa on the streets of Calcutta, it is Fred Hollows restoring sight to so many in developing nations, it is the work of World Vision, Tear, and Compassion amongst others. It is offering comfort to someone in pain. It is providing for someone in need. It is standing with someone who feels overwhelmed by life or circumstance. It is an expression of the heart of God.
Rather than ask the question of am I not merciful, or compassionate, let’s simply be.