What is difference between Pity and Mercy?
In this weeks gospel Bartimaeus, the blind man crys out to Jesus, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." The question posed to me was what is the difference between pity and mercy. Your comments are appreciated.
~ Debbie Aguilera, St. Catherine of Siena in Rialto, CA
Thanks for the question, Debbie. We asked our ParishWorld Theology editor to answer your question and this is what he said:
Pity: The Spanish translation uses the word "compasion". Pity is a feeling of sadness that we get when we consider a limiting situation in another person. It can be physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional. It is not a driving force that makes us rectify the limiting factors in the person that they afflict because they don't come from us or from any other source over which we have any discretion, authority or power. Whatever good we do for the afflicted person will more than likely not restore the person to a non-afflicted state of normalcy.
Mercy on the other hand is an emotion that arises for some of the same reasons as pity except mercy makes us do something to alleviate the elements of distress that afflict the person in which they exist. We take mercy on someone when we forgive an insult, for instance. Mercy is granted to criminals when the judge either shortens or commutes the sentence. Mercy is offered to persons who have called the affliction down upon themselves and are now suffering the consequences of their own behavior.
Bartimaeous asks Jesus to take pity on him because his blindness is a consequence of a natural condition and not the result of sinful actions on his part. If he wanted to draw attention to himself as a sinner at least partially deserving to be punished through blindness, he would ask Jesus to have mercy on him, not pity.