The Quality of Mercy is not Strained...

Many years ago, while in Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, I observed city life one evening in a very large plaza. Hundreds of people had crowded into the plaza of this northern Greek city for a summer evening's visiting and entertainment. By chance, my eyes fell upon a little blonde-headed toddler who was running around joyfully expressing his freedom. I watched him eye with envy the older boys playing soccer in one part of the plaza. He desperately wanted to be a part of their game, but he knew he was too small. Therefore, he would mimic their behavior by running back and forth-just out of harm's way.

While I watched this little boy mimicking the older boys, my eyes fell upon an old man who was selling small soccer balls. They were just right size for a toddler. I went over to the vendor and spent a couple of drachma and purchased a soccer ball for my unknown friend. By the time I had made my purchase, the little boy's father had corralled him, and so I walked over to where they were standing. I presented the little boy his own soccer ball. His father, totally overwhelmed with a gift of less than a dollar, said to me in heavily accented English, "Why this give to him?"

I wanted so desperately to explain to the little boy and his father that the world in which we live is all messed up with terrorism, bombings, killings, and hostage taking. I wanted this little boy to know that there was a better way, a way not contingent upon getting even or killing. Since I couldn't think of the Greek word for contingent, I merely smiled, patted the head of the blonde-haired boy, and fought back tears of concern for him, for my children, and for all children everywhere. I left that Greek child thinking about his innocence, vulnerability, and sheer excitement about life.

Late into that evening, I sat there in the plaza drinking strange tasting wine while I wondered just how the world would hurt this child. This child represented to me every child in our world. An overwhelming anxiety came over me, because I couldn't protect the world's children from what happens to many of them as they grew up.

The next day, I left Thessalonica early in the morning never to return. However, I wondered that evening when that father returned with his son, what did he think while he watched his little boy kicking his very own soccer ball in that plaza a half a world away from where my children innocently played? Maybe, the gift of a soccer ball will enable that father to treat his precious son better than he might have. Perhaps, he will be more merciful and loving to his son or to someone else who doesn't "deserve it." It has been nearly twenty years since I bought the little one his own soccer ball; the child is an adult by now. I wonder how life has treated him?

Pope John Paul II said, "True mercy is love's second name." You may be thinking to yourself that giving a child a toy is hardly a great merciful act. Yet, if we can't do these small acts of mercy, then we can't perform the greater acts like forgiveness and acceptance of one who has deeply hurt us.

We need to start small, and then we can branch out for acts that are more merciful. Do you think you are really ready for the big issues of mercy in your life? Are you sure? What is your reaction to hijacking, terrorism, and killings? Often, our gut response is to bomb the blazes out of them! Good idea?! Can we really get even with someone by killing him or by bombing his village? The process of getting even merely escalates the conflict. If we go down that road, we are no different from the terrorist and together we are no better than mere animals and very often worse.

We can transcend our animal natures by giving a soccer ball to a small child who doesn't deserve it or by extending an act of mercy to someone who has hurt us. Recall what Shakespeare has Portia say to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice,

Portia and Shylock

"The quality of mercy is not strained, it drops as a gentle rain from heaven...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 deeds of mercy."