Is There Mercy?

I have just reread Alan Paton’s classic, “Cry the Beloved Country.” In his lovely, heartbreaking tale of South Africa, Paton tells of a young black man named Absolom who breaks into a house in white, suburban Johannesburg. He and his accomplices, however, are discovered, and in the ensuing fight the man of the house is murdered. It turns out that the fathers of both killer and victim are neighbors — living amongst the beautiful hills of Kwazulu-Natal. The bereaved father is a commercial farmer named Jarvis, and the murderer’s father a Zulu preacher.
Absolom is arrested for killing Jarvis’ son and sentenced to death. The elderly minister appeals for his life, and awaits word of the appeal’s success. By chance, when the letter comes, he and Jarvis are caught in a terrific thunderstorm and take refuge in the little village church building. Paton writes:
“It was nearly over when Jarvis rose and stood in the aisle near Kumalo. Without looking at the old man, he said, ‘Is there mercy?'”
There was no mercy. Absolom would be executed, and both fathers would suffer their own unique grief. Of course, in earthly courts, justice must prevail; a young man who takes another’s life must suffer the consequences. But Kumalo, a man of great dignity, finds to his surprise that rather than seek revenge, Jarvis offers to rebuild the little church building and build a dam to provide water for the valley of Umzimkulu.
Rather than be overcome by vengeance, their suffering brought these two men together, the taciturn white farmer and the simple preacher. And, one wonders, could their South Africa one day also be united?
But Christians already know that suffering and loss brings people together, for the sacrifice of Christ reconciles us (or ought to) to each other. How could we, who needed Christ’s mercy, look down on another mercy-given child of God? How could we who have been forgiven, refuse to forgive?
Jesus brought us together in his dying: “to reconcile both of them (Jew and Gentile) through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).
South Africa — and our sad old earth — is a pretty tough place. But yes — apparently there is mercy.

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