When I first read The Lord of the Rings, when I was in high school, I deeply admired the loyal Samwise Gamgee. At one point, I actually told my mom how much I wanted to have a friend like Sam. Her response was simple: “Then be a friend like Sam.”
No one, I thought, could be as virtuous as Samwise.
Now, as I reflect on the story in my adulthood I realize that Tolkien did not write Sam as a perfectly good hobbit. Yes, Sam possesses the great virtue of loyalty, but it’s sometimes at the expense of other virtues; particularly at the expense of mercy.
When it comes to dealing with his friends, especially with Frodo, you’d be hard pressed to find a soul as good as Sam, but when it comes to dealing with foes, with disgusting figures such as Gollum, Sam’s kindness is found lacking. At one point, Sam thinks that he and Frodo should actually kill Gollum, which Sam would likely have done had Frodo not restrained Sam’s hand.
Sam, of course, wants to destroy Gollum out of loyalty to Frodo, to protect him. But Frodo’s mercy wins out, and in the end, it is this mercy that not only saves Frodo, but also destroys Gollum.
When Frodo arrives at the center of Mt. Doom, the end of his journey where he is to destroy the Ring, he finds himself incapable of actually surrendering it, and so he puts it on. Out of nowhere, Gollum arrives on the scene, attacks Frodo, bites off his finger, sending the One Ring flying into the air, and into the bowels of Doom. Gollum, obsessed with the power of the Ring, throws himself after it and plummets to his own demise in the fires of Mordor. Frodo loses a finger, but ultimately escapes with his soul.
And it was all because of the mercy he showed Gollum.
You see, Frodo was ultimately unwilling to give up the Ring. Left to himself, Frodo would have failed in his mission. Had he permitted Sam to kill Gollum earlier, had mercy not won that day, then Frodo and Middle Earth would have been lost forever.
Unlike Frodo, Sam wanted to take matters into his own hands and destroy his enemy. Mercy was the last thing on Sam’s mind.
When my mom encouraged me to become like Sam, I didn’t realize that I would take that so fully to heart. As it turns out I, too, have great difficulty showing mercy to those who are against me. It’s much easier to be a good to friends than it is to be merciful to enemies.
This Sunday, Christ tells us that we are to do good to our enemies, to love them, to be merciful to them (even as our Heavenly Father is merciful), reminding us that even sinners are good to their friends (Lk. 6:31-36).
I have a lot to learn from Frodo.
The problem is that it’s hard to be kind to people who are rude to us. It feels so good (at least at first) to say something snarky under one’s breath. And it is even (and perhaps most dramatically) too tempting to wish for the death of someone who has sincerely deeply hurt us.
Mercy is not our default setting.
And yet this Sunday Christ calls us to something better than our default. He calls us to be like Frodo.
He calls us to be like Himself.
He calls us to pray for those that would harm us, to love those who might betray us. Those who might “bite off our fingers.”
In the end, I suppose it’s better to lose a finger than to lose one’s soul. But right now, it’s really hard to care for enemies. In fact, I can actually think of specific people against whom I have harbored resentment.
What’s harder to see (or to be happy about) is that the Lord is inviting me to release it, and to trust in His goodness instead. Mercy is the path toward salvation, even if it may leave me with some nasty wounds.
I’m sure each of us can think of people we wish weren’t in our lives, people who have harmed us, whether insignificantly or disastrously so. And I don’t know about you, but the thought of praying for those people scares me. Releasing my anger, releasing my hurt, releasing my hatred and instead choosing prayer, choosing mercy - choosing love - terrifies me.
I think this is because my anger and hurt, my desire to see these people suffer is a feeble attempt to resist my own deep feelings of vulnerability and pain. It is a broken attempt to place myself in the judgment seat and to pronounce as Frodo does earlier in the story, “He deserves to die.”
And it’s possible. They may deserve death, as Gandalf says. There are, in fact, many who live that deserve death, and there are some who die that deserve life: but who am I to dole out death in judgment so easily?
As it turns out, I am unfortunately a lot like Gollum as well. Like Gollum, I seek the allure of the Ring’s power. And nothing makes us feel quite so powerful as anger. But holding on to my power, holding on to my lack of forgiveness will destroy me. Like Gollum, I will plummet into the pits of Doom as I grasp for power with my dying breath.
I tried praying for my enemies the other day, and I really didn’t like it. I want them to suffer. I want them to get what they deserve. But if I’m even more honest with myself, I’m very grateful to God that I don’t get what I deserve.
This Sunday, God is inviting me to release my anger, to lean into mercy and to trust that in the end, even if I walk away with some severe wounds, everything will be okay because I’ll still have my soul.
I pray that I will learn from Frodo, that I may become like Christ, who was merciful to us, even while we were yet His enemies.
Gollum: San Diego Shooter via Compfight cc
Kid: paul goyette via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on the primacy of mercy, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on the power of mercy, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on becoming like Christ through relationship, check out this episode of Y2AM's new YouTube series, "The Trench":