(A) Portrait of a kind man

The merciful or kind man makes concessions to the weakness of others. This was not the way of John Wesley's father, a zealous and courageous clergyman in the Cambridgeshire Fens, who, when his daughter returned home after eloping for twenty four hours with her lover, insisted that by way of a penance she marry the first honest man that presented himself. The result was an unhappy marriage to a drunken itinerant tinker. That wasn't kind! Religious people from the time of Jesus have been prone to legalism. When I was serving as the youthful sports organiser at a Christian camp many years ago I got caught by the elder of a local Brethren fellowship chasing two children across his stubble field. What farmer would have worried about children running through the stubble in my boyhood? None! Times had changed. I was stopped, berated and humiliated. This fellow Christian made me and the two campers retrace our steps back across his field. I was treated by a Christian brother without mercy.

Esau, on being reconciled to his brother Jacob, suggested that they travel on together. Jacob declined saying, "...the children are tender...So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of...the children." Gen33v13to14. Kindness leads on slowly or, as the Authorised Version puts it, softly. It makes no unrealistic demands; it isn't ultra strict or preoccupied with weaknesses and failings but rather it encourages. One Saturday morning my mother was looking after her three year old grandson, Isaac. I had some distance to travel to play a hockey match and so my mother began serving up my lunch before the usual time. She said to her grandson, "Uncle John is having his dinner early; we will have ours a bit later." Isaac, who had been taking the keenest interest in proceedings, suddenly looked very crestfallen. My mother noticed this and said, "Do you want your dinner now with Uncle John?" The reply was lisped but it was emphatic and without dissimulation, "Yis." My mother led on softly. We had our dinner together and it was all the better for that.

I departed from the usual custom of Geography teachers whenever I took my sixth formers away on fieldtrips by giving them the evenings free. There was a risk in this because it gave them the opportunity to go to the pub and get drunk. None did! So I did not overwork my students; I gave them some leisure time; I lead on softly and I hope they appreciated it!

Secondly kindness doesn't make it a rule to treat people in the way that they deserve. Joseph's brothers knew what they deserved and when their old father died they were very anxious about their future well-being. When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did him?" Gen50v15. Joseph was merciful - he said to his brothers, "Don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Gen50v21

At the end of a summer term a few years ago the cleaner of Debenham High School where I worked asked, "Did you enjoy your present?" I replied, "What present?" The cleaner, with whom I was friendly, said, "Charlie X bought you a nice bottle of whisky." Charlie X never gave me the whisky because that morning in the leaver's assembly he had crawled under a pile of chairs and made a nuisance of himself. I had hauled him out and made him look foolish. He obviously did not think I deserved his present. He showed no mercy! The behaviour of Victoria was very different. I was very fond of her and sad at the thought of parting. When a schoolmaster says goodbye to his pupils it is usually a final farewell - a kind of death. I suppose that as this time approaches I get rather touchy and tetchy. When I caught Victoria reading a magazine in my last lesson with her I was very angry and said some nasty things. Later in the day I apologised for my harsh judgement of her. However the damage was done. A couple of days later I walked into my room to register my form for the last time. A whole array of presents was spread over my desk. They were tastefully arranged and reflected my interests. Later one of my colleagues asked if I liked what my form had bought for me. She said, "Victoria was the one who organised it all". Victoria did not treat me as I deserved. She showed mercy.

We have lots of opportunities to show kindness: to the ungrateful, the careless and thoughtless who take us for granted and who are so often our nearest and dearest, to the foolish who are heedless of advice and get themselves into trouble and the aloof and unfriendly who are their own worst enemies.

Thirdly kindness is active in alleviating misery. The Good Samaritan showed initiative. Jesus' story is all about doing and the quality of the doing. The Samaritan didn't add to the misery of the man who fell foul of the thieves by heavy handed, tactless, condescending charity but provided help in such a sympathetic, seemly, fashion that our hearts are still cheered as we read of his ministrations. Some years ago I felt miserable. I was on a camping holiday in the Vale of Pickering, West Yorkshire. My only companion was a temperamental Fiat that showed a marked reluctance to start on dewy mornings. Impatient to get away early I ran down the battery in a vain attempt to get started. I daresay some of the other campers felt sorry for me but that didn't dispel my gloom. I was made happy by a man with a rope who came along and offered me a tow. Such a simple thing, unremarkable, almost mundane but then kindness so often is. But only one man made the offer. Inertia can stifle initiative - even when such a little effort can make such a great difference.

(B) The reproductive power of kindness: for they will be shown mercy.

The blessedness of kindness is in its reproductive power. It is so easy to dwell on the virtue of kindness and miss it's true blessedness. Those that are kind get paid in kind. There is payment:

(a) From others

The wealthy woman of Shunem extended gracious hospitality to Elisha the prophet and generosity was reciprocated. He asked his servant, Gehazi, "What can be done for her?" 2Kings4v14. Elisha wasn't crudely repaying a debt but rather expressing his gratitude and showing appreciation of her kindness. He encourages virtue, saying in effect, "I want to play my part too." In this way kind acts multiply.

The Christmas of 1987 was remarkable because, for the first time since boyhood, I received presents from all my aunts and uncles. Why was this? Well in the September I gave up work to care for my invalid father. My elderly relatives evidently supported this decision and wanted to show their approval in a tangible way. A little kindness acts as a catalyst for producing a lot more of the same.

(b) For others

A kind man may obtain kindness for others through the power of example. Jonathan showed kindness to David. When David was an outlaw, hiding in the woods of Ziph, Jonathan searched him out to encourage and reassure him that he would be the next King of Israel. "Don't be afraid," he(Jonathan) said, "My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You shall be king over Israel." 1Sam23v17. This was a very gracious act considering that Jonathan was heir to the throne. Years later David was to say, "Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan's sake?" 2Sam9v1. Mephibosheth, Jonathan's crippled son, was discovered in the house of Machir of Lodebar and benefited from his father's example of loving kindness to David. The story doesn't quite end there, for when David's spirits were at their lowest ebb during Absolem's rebellion Machir was one of three who succoured the king and his loyal following at Mahanam with beds, basins and beans. 2Sam17v27to29.

Who knows where an act of kindness ends? I was a son of the manse and witnessed my parent's debilitating anxiety about money. There was a period when the situation was especially desperate. During that time, nearly fifty years ago, my father received through the post a cheque for 100. It was from a member of the first church he pastored. Mr Botright, who made the gift, was the village postman and certainly not a rich man himself. The joy that princely act of kindness brought to my parents is still with me. Any money that I have given to hard up Christian workers has been inspired by the memory of that humble, saintly, old man who shared his life savings with his former pastor and friend. What a blessedness to obtain kindness for others.

(c) From God

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a palace slave, rescued the prophet Jeremiah from the miry pit. This was a kindness from an unexpected quarter done in God's name at considerable personal risk. See Jer38v7to13. When the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians was imminent God instructed Jeremiah to tell Ebed-melech, "I am about to fulfil my words against this city through disaster, not prosperity. ....... But I will rescue you on that day...... I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust me." Jer39v16to18. God did Ebed-melech a kindness in recognition of the faith he exhibited in rescuing Jeremiah. It was more than a gift - it was also a prize.

Salvation is the fullest expression of God's mercy. However kind a man is he can never deserve what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Jesus was under no obligation to suffer and die. Nevertheless to believe in Jesus is to do more than trust in his redeeming work at Calvary. It also involves following him; practicing his teaching and copying his example. Paul, who more than any other New Testament writer stressed God's grace in salvation, had this in mind when he wrote to the Philippians, "But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus." Phil3v13. So salvation is both a gift and a prize. It is a gift to repenting sinners and it is the prize of the faithful follower. Insofar as we obey Jesus and are kind God will show us mercy - we will win the prize.