On Mercy

‘Then must the Jew be merciful?’ asks William Shakespeare in the Merchant of Venice. Can we compel the Jews to be merciful? It is like: we have confessed. Therefore, now it is for you to forgive and show mercy. We all know that mercy is bestowed without compulsion. No one can be forced to be merciful. Mercy that is forced in no mercy. The sense that one gets in the question of Shakespeare that we have raised is: We have confessed it is now your turn to be merciful. You must therefore forgive. It seems that it is just that the Jews forgive. Thus, the question binds the Jews to a compelling norm of forgiveness. It is paradoxical. Mercy that cannot be tied to a law of compulsion seems to operate on what makes it impossible.

Does this mean that we have the challenge to season justice with mercy? Does this mean we have to show uncoerced leniency for the law? Does the law have to fail to make us merciful? Does the law have to fall silent in front of mercy? Does that also mean that one who forgives and becomes merciful is higher than the one who asks mercy or obtains forgiveness? Does that make the mercy lets the giver of mercy show/ exhibit might without might or show him/her as mightier than might? Does that mean mercy becomes more powerful than power? Is the compulsion to be merciful without compulsion works by sheer force of being made to rise to a higher moral position by being merciful? Does this mean that mercy bows down to the lure of a privilege? Does this mean that we are doomed to be merciful to en-cash a privilege? Does that mean to be truly merciful without seeking for any privilege, we have to get the practice of mercy be freed from the mercy that offers us privilege? Can we move from this mercy of privilege and be merciful for the sake of mercifulness?

This opens the door for what Derrida calls doing the impossible. If we are merciful only because it symbolically pays us back then we are trading with mercy. Our acts of mercy then belong to an exchange of the market where we give to get. We become merciful to be privileged. This means we remain at what Derrida calls the level of the possibile Therefore, the challenge to be truly merciful is to give mercy without seeking any return. There cannot be any payment of the debt. Real mercy does not belong to the economy of the debt. Mercy cannot be mercenary. Mercy is not a transaction. It is a gift. It is given and received freely. The giver and the receiver remain on the same ground. The economy of mercy does not belong to the market. It belongs to the economy of the gift that exceeds the market. It is a mad economy. It does not count the returns. It cannot be calculative. It gives and pours out mercy without ceasing. Mercy, therefore, belongs to the divine economy. It is merciful in its abundance.

Mercy is not a practice for a profit. In some way, mercy that belongs to the economy of abundance immanentizes the divine. This is why mercy that is real is impossible. It does the impossible as it leads us to forgive the unforgivable. Mercy seeks nothing other than itself. This therefore means mercy itself announces as the impossible. Hence, mercy does not have any preconditions. It rejects the exchange model of the market. It opens us to the divine. We do not have to contrast cruelty to be kind. We can be kind all the way. Cruelty does not have to be a hidden supplement of mercy. It is unbound and therefore boundless. If follows the principle of insufficient reason. There is no reason to be merciful. We can be unreasonably merciful. There is no measure of mercy. We cannot place any limit on it. We cannot moderate it. It exceeds everything and is both transgressive and excessive. Hence mercy does not just forgive the forgivable. It challenges us to forgive the unforgivable. This makes it gracious, infinite and aneconomic in character.

Mercy is given without being asked. This means it stays beyond laws, norms and ethics and is a way of love that gives mercy to even to the one who did not ask. Mercy of this kind belongs to the horizon of the impossible but remains humanly possible. We can be merciful and without belonging to the economy of the debt. It belongs to the world of can be. We can practice mercy that exceeds the economy of exchange of the market. Hence, it is hyperbolic, excessive and mad. It excludes and disqualifies no one. It is apolitical. It is all embracive. Mercy does not belong to the world of what is. It also does not belong to what has been. It belongs to what can be. It opens us to a new world and usher in possibilities of change and renewal. It gives us a second chance/ third chance/ fourth chance … It simply gives and gives and gives. It links us to the celebration of mercy by Jesus Christ. Jesus invited us to be merciful like God the father. Jesus says that He desires mercy and not sacrifice. Sacrifice is transactive. It gives to get while mercy gives to give. There is no transaction. It can stand on its own. It does not need a supplement. It presses both the givers and receivers forward. It takes us in the world of can be(s). It opens us to the absolute horizon that does not close on us and close us. It opens us and keeps opening us to the new vistas that enable us to become fully human and fully alive.


  1. Alok Nag
    July 3, 2021

    Very enriching

    1. jnanamrit
      July 7, 2021

      Glad you liked it


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao