mercy: Red Letter Challenge

You want to know how you know you’re getting old? Your childhood gets a refresh.

Take The Karate Kid. It was a clear sign I was aging when they came out with a remake a couple decades after the original was made. To add insult to injury, Netflix recently developed a spin-off, Cobra Kai, imagining the characters from the original films all grown up. Guess what that makes me?

[Confession: I love Cobra Kai. 10/10 recommend]

For those who just landed on Earth, Cobra Kai is the name of the dojo in The Karate Kid that spawns all the villains. They have a mantra that is pretty intense.

Strike First.
Strike Hard.
No Mercy.

“No mercy” is what propelled Johnny Lawrence to “sweep the leg” of an injured Daniel Larusso at the All-Valley under-18 Karate Championship. It wasn’t pretty.

Mercy, you see, is to cease pain. Mercy is to alleviate suffering. Mercy is to extend compassion toward another. And those nasty Cobra Kai’s show no mercy. (Watch the new Cobra Kai for a great redemption story of what happens when we decide some mantras aren’t worth following.)

They never stop bending back the fingers regardless of how loud you cry. They don’t care about Duffy’s begging (check out the song…so good). They inflict pain and punishment. It’s who they are. It’s what they do.

They aren’t the only ones.

Mercy, or a lack thereof, is pretty big in scripture. Lots of folks were struggling with what it meant way back then. One of the passages that resonates with me is found in the first half of our Bible in one of the so-called minor prophets.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6 (New International Version)

Mercy, not sacrifice? Compassion and alleviating suffering over burning stuff in worship?

Put that way, it makes total sense. So why do I struggle with extending mercy? Why do I continually look to “sweep the leg”?

For the Cobra Kai it is about power and control. To show mercy is to be weak and weakness is to be avoided at all costs. Er…um…that hits a bit close to home.

Except I’m a Jesus follower and Jesus has a whole different way of thinking about what is strong and weak. We learn God flips the script (1 Corinthians 1:27) and Jesus’ power is made known through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So forget the show; sacrificing all sorts of stuff on our altars. God says, treat each other better.

I like the way the United Methodists frame it with our “General Rules.”

  • First, do no harm. (stop hurting people…no more leg sweeping.)
  • Second, do good. (help those who hurt…sounds like mercy to me)
  • Third, stay in love with God (spend time with God receiving and giving grace)

Three simple rules, but oh so hard sometimes to live. Here’s to deciding it’s worth the effort.

Life is better together,
Shawn

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