The passages for the fourth Sunday of Lent all speak of mercy: God’s mercy in providing the weird bronze serpent for the Israelites to look at and live (Numbers 21), God’s mercy in preserving the lives of the sick and healing their infirmities (Psalm 107) , God’s mercy in coming as Jesus to live as one of us (John 3), God’s mercy in loving us back to life when we were dead in our sins (Eph 2).

So I wondered about that word, mercy. My dictionary says it comes from the Old French merci, which means “pity” or “thanks” (apparently, the French still use it, merci beaucoup). That Old French word comes from the Latin merces or merced, which means “reward.”

Now that’s interesting. A reward is usually something you get for doing something you’re supposed to do. My son’s reward for napping on Christmas Eve is that he gets to stay up and go to the midnight service. My reward for writing this blog post is that I’m going to treat myself to a cookie. But mercy is what we get when we do something we’re not supposed to do and then don’t have to suffer the consequence.

So this linking of mercy and reward intrigues me. A God who is rich in mercy is a God who rewards us—but not as we deserve. God lets Jack go to the midnight service even if he doesn’t nap. God lets me eat the cookie, regardless of whether I’ve blogged.

As I look back at just this last week, I see evidence of God’s mercy all over the place—a car accident that wasn’t, a step off a curb that could have ended in a broken ankle but didn’t, an unexpected evening of rest in an otherwise overscheduled week.

My daughter’s favorite hymn right now is “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and she sings it with me when I tuck her in, only instead of “Morning by morning new mercies I see,” she sings, “new mercies I seize.” I love this. It reminds me that while God is rich in mercy, I’ll never know it unless I seize the mercies He extends to me, the rewards I don’t deserve.

Read it for yourself
The lectionary passages for the fourth Sunday of Lent are:
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21