Romans 9:16: “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

Listening to the song “House of the Rising Sun” we get a little glimpse of the prostitutes’ plight. Jesus was well aware of their situation. Religious leaders of His time considered people who lived on the fringes of society a lost cause while Jesus sought them out. He sat down with prostitutes and held conversations with outcasts. As a result Jesus was invited to their homes and people clung to every word He said. He told them parables, beautiful little short stories of hope and mercy. The overriding theme of His tales: “Lost & Found”.

Perhaps we have read the Lord’s parables of “The Lost & Found Sheep”“The Lost & Found Coin”, and “The Lost & Found Son”.

In the first story we read about a straying sheep which gets separated from the rest of the flock. When the owner realizes that one of his sheep is missing he calls a search party. Once the lost animal was spotted, he is so relieved that he puts it on his shoulders to carry it back home. Overjoyed he celebrates with his friends and neighbors.

In the second story the main character is a woman who owns ten silver coins. One of them gets lost. She proceeds to comb through the whole house until she finds that coin. When she finally discovers it, she is so happy that she lets everybody know.

In the first two stories the object did not get lost by choice. The owners felt responsible and were compelled to do everything in their power to restore the lost object. – Let’s pause here for a minute and think of unspeakable tragedies where people are born into slavery, sold into prostitution against their will, violated, drugged and raped, without a home, without identity. Lost coins are unidentified objects dropped into the dark corners of this world and seemingly forgotten, but in all reality the Owner of the universe is reaching out day and night to get a hold of these precious coins. And like the characters in Jesus’s story, God is not known to give up easily.

In the third story we hear about two lost sons. The wayward son wants to get out and spend all his cashed inheritance while his brother stays at home but seems to begrudge his life situation. Maybe he is even envious of his brother. Both sons are lost in the sense that they are not with their father. One is geographically absent; the other one’s heart is absent. In the end the wayward son returns home after he had squandered all of his wealth. His brother does not want any mercy for him and also doesn’t seem to think that he himself is in need of mercy.

The common theme of the Lord’s Lost & Found Narratives is His astonishing compassion. Mercy is 100 percent His doing; it is not triggered by rituals or initiated by anything we accomplish. The Lord is merciful – that’s who He is. And only through His mercies can we be found.

“There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun.
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl,
and me, O God, for one.” 
(Georgia Turner and Bert Martin)

Hebrews 10:30-31: “For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

For all who think that revenge brings satisfaction of justice being served, let me burst your bubble: Taking revenge holds no blessing whatsoever. Payback time is a time of horror leaving destruction in its wake. It makes a new beginning impossible and therefore squanders all hope.

The sad truth is revenge brings nothing but gloom, doom and death. And to make matters worse, revenge does not end a bad situation once and for all. Quite the opposite is true: revenge heaps up more revenge. There is no peace to be found in paying back. Nobody gets what he or she deserves. In the end, we all overpay if we keep going down this road.

In His infinite wisdom God once said: “Leave revenge up to Me”. In other words: “Don’t go there!”

And yet, humanly speaking it’s hard to let go of the pursuit of revenge when we have tasted abuse, neglect, violation of basic human rights, even murder. “What are we supposed to do! Just sit there and do nothing?” is the outcry of the bullied, the ones taken advantage of, the people trampled upon. The cry for justice is the most basic human cry for relief. And justice we need, but the way to justice and peace is not by way of revenge.

Once we have gotten onto the bandwagon of retaliation the world bleeds out its color and all we see is black and white. We are convinced that we are right while the other party is utterly wrong and forget that we are not perfect either. God warns us not to fall into the trap of self-righteousness. Leading by example He shows us the blessings of mercy. Unlike revenge, mercy opens the door to a fresh new beginning. Debt cancellation is unfair, isn’t it? Apparently, we let someone get away with something. Well, yes – God’s mercy is outrageous and undeserved, but it is because of God’s mercies that we live.

We put the criminal justice system in place to pursue justice when rights have been violated. However, let’s not forget that this system we so heavily rely on functions as a Band-Aid and works only to a degree. The criminal justice system does not change people. Love alone is the true change agent. Love and mercy have brought us to the doorsteps of heaven – no chance in hell to get there through the pursuit of revenge.

God knows, there is no salvation in condemnation, but there is precious hope in mercy.