Editor's note: This piece was originally published on the blog of Phil Reinders: Squinch.net. Reinders is the senior pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto, and author of Seeking God's Face (2010). Republished with permission.
Toronto mayor Rob Ford promised to end the gravy train at city hall, but no one imagined a train wreck like this.
It's been a scandal like nothing seen before in Toronto the good. There's a snickering snort in our noses and a condescending smirk on our faces as we speak of high-minded things of politics and corruption. But every time I've joined the choristers of ridicule (and I've been a choir boy way too many times recently), I'm confronted, held back by myself.
I like to talk about the Mayor doing the right thing but the reality is that most of the time, in the ease and luxury of my privacy, I can hardly bring myself to do the right thing.
I want to be a voice for the higher ground but with every new revelation, every titillating video leak, I find myself a rubbernecking voyeur.
I'd like to voice some righteous rage but mostly what comes is a sad lament. For the demons of addiction that shipwreck so many lives. For all the ways that power corrupts. For the public humiliation of Rob Ford. For his wife and kids. For the Mayor's stubborn foolishness and all the so-called friends and advisors who encourage him to cling to power instead of seek healing. For the easy judgmentalism, the smug self-righteousness in me. For all the times I hide and evade responsibility. For all the ways I silently perpetuate the very things I criticize.
In the midst of this giddy Rob Ford pile-on, I was confronted by the biblical text our church studied yesterday. The timing of this fifth beatitude within this week's political circus was astonishing.
"Blessed are the merciful," says Jesus, "for they will receive mercy."
Seriously, Jesus. Mercy?
In the face of these words of Jesus, I can feel a resistance movement organizing. "What about justice? Where is the accountability? Isn't mercy a free pass when something has to change?"
I'm struck by how deeply we trust condemnation as the most effective means for seeking and motivating change. The desire for justice, honesty, transparency, and good government are right. Yet when those are threatened we resort to rejection and condemnation because we want no mistaking that what is happening is wrong. We use condemnation, ridicule, and harsh judgment as the means to insulate us from what is wrong and produce change in whoever is causing the problem, getting people to shape up through condemnation (really, now, has anyone been condemned into a better way of living?).
Think of the dynamic which condemnation kick-starts—it forces you into a defensive posture, encasing you in a protective emotional armour, cutting you off from the possibility of receiving mercy. Isn't this the very situation Rob Ford finds himself in? He's been so pugilistic in his demeanour, polarizing sides and demonizing others, insulating himself from others and protecting his position so closely. It's left him incapable of receiving mercy, unable to see the mercy being extended to him in a resignation or a leave from office. He is perceiving mercy as a threat instead of a gift.
As I've lived with this beatitude, I recalled how Jesus was criticized for the company he kept. And the company he mostly kept was the Rob Fords of his day: the loathed tax-collectors, the socially despised, the immoral, the outcast. He was merciful to people who didn't deserve it.
Mercy is not what Rob Ford deserves. He deserves to be lambasted for the divisive folly of his leadership. He deserves to be shown the door for demeaning the office of mayor and pissing all over the trust given through his election. He has earned all the jibes and jeering sent his way for the absolute fool he's made of himself.