Jesus spoke frequently of God's mercy, forgiveness and our need for repentance. No story in the Hebrew Scriptures better illustrates this than the story of Jonah.
Jonah the Prophet was sent by God to Nineveh, to call on them to forsake their evil ways and repent. Jonah (after famously fleeing and being brought back on track by a whale) does as he is commanded and Nineveh actually repents, turning to God in true and genuine repentance, seeking forgiveness for their sins.
In this parable of God's mercy, Jonah, now a successful prophet, is furious with God, because he believes he was made to look like a chump for calling down God's wrath. He complains to God that, "I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" and that he KNEW that God would be merciful to them if they repented from their sins (Jonah 4:1.) And Jonah was correct.
The story of Jonah, like the ministry of Jesus, illustrates God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness. Both are available to us when we repent of our sins and choose to follow God's path of Righteousness instead.
Jesus refers to Nineveh and their repentance during his ministry, saying, "The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn the people living today, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah. But look, something greater than Jonah is here!" (Luke 11:30.)
The men of Nineveh were held up by Jesus as examples for those in Judea who were acting in unrighteous ways.
God asks Jonah after his outburst, "Is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4) And it's a good question, and one that's still relevant. Because like Jonah, some modern Christian leaders are very angry with God for being too generous with His mercy and forgiveness.
And yet, God has mercy on those whom HE chooses to have mercy. James writes, "Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)
The truth is, God is not bound by OUR ideas of Justice and Condemnation. In this sense, God's ways are surely not OUR ways.
While we may decide that some people do not deserve God's mercy, and must first "pay a price" for falling short of His high standards, God does not condemn based on our whims or theories about who is "in" and who is "out" of his loving embrace, either now or eternally.
And in the same way, one minor flaw in our character, one falling short of God's perfect way does not condemn us to eternal separation from God, as some today would imagine it. Jesus says we are forgiven when we repent and turn back to God, just as all the Hebrew Prophets before him promised.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7) Isaiah told the children of Israel to turn back to God, against Whom they had deeply and greatly revolted (Isaiah 31:6.)
The wisdom of God is that we may forsake our sins and repent, then we will find God's mercy waiting for us (Prov. 28:13.) And if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9.)
What does God require of us? Mercy. Jesus says those who seek mercy shall have it (Matt. 5:7) and in turn we are called to "Be merciful" just as our Father in Heaven is merciful. And as we are forgiven and receive mercy, we are called upon to forgive others and have mercy upon others (Luke 6:36-37.)
But wait - can God just show mercy to us - without retribution or payment? Just like that? Yes.
God isn't the elected leader of a government we created, nor is He bound by rules we think He must follow. No one should say, "God cannot show mercy because He is bound be laws to be unmerciful." or, "We must pay a price before we get mercy from God." No, God's mercy transcends His judgment, when we repent with a pure heart and genuineness. All the Hebrew Scriptures and our Master, Jesus, testify clearly to the wonderful Truth that God's mercy is unlimited.
God requires nothing but our genuine repentance to "earn" his mercy. "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," God tells Moses. "And I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." (Ex. 33:19)
The Hebrew Bible, consistent with the teachings of Jesus, tells us we may ALL return to God when we forsake evil and turn back to God's holy path of Righteous living.
Hosea and Jesus both inform us that God requires "mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 9:13; Matt. 12:7) The Prophet Micah says we are to "love Mercy" (6:6)
We are blessed to know a God Who does not curse us with other's sins, and Who freely grants mercy to the repentant!
King David writes: "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long." But, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD GOD,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin." (Psalm 32.)
Having received the mercy of God, we are called by our Master, Jesus to show mercy to others.
We show in our service to others - the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the homeless, the destitute and the suffering - that we understand what God's mercy means to us. And because we have the example of this man, Jesus, who achieved God's Standard of excellence, we know we are capable of doing what God asks of us.