Shylock retorts, “On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.”
“The quality of mercy is not strained;“Not strained” means we cannot be constrained to be merciful. Mercy can’t be compelled. If it’s compelled, it isn’t mercy. Mercy just happens, the way gentle rain falls on the ground. And when it does, it blesses both giver and receiver.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
In this way, mercy is related to grace. “Grace” is a name for the fact that much of what is good in life is “free” – that we are rich in blessings not earned, deserved, or expected. If a blessing comes to you when you didn’t deserve it, that’s grace. If a punishment is lifted or consequence averted from you that you did deserve, that’s mercy. We all deserve worse than we get, as Portia goes on to say:
“in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.”Mercy reminds us that justice and fairness – as important and necessary as they are – are not enough. Love and forgiveness take the name mercy when, as they sometimes must, they countermand the dictates of justice.
There are times when it is better not to save others from the consequences of their actions. Overprotectiveness is a misapplication of mercy. As Shakespeare tells us in a different play (Timon of Athens):
“nothing emboldens sin so much as mercy.”
In the Middle East, so many wrongs have been committed by so many people, that there’s no way to punish all who have acted violently. If justice is a prerequisite for peace, we may never have peace in that region. Peace will require some justice – and a lot of mercy.
Questions: What role has mercy played in your life? When have you most memorably received it? When have you given it? When have you wished you’d given more of it?