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Is there a difference between 'having mercy' and 'extending mercy?' Are there other phrases that mean similar things?

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To "have mercy" is the plea of someone who desires mercy before it has been extended. The publican, or tax collector, who stood at a distance from the Jewish temple in Jesus' day, not so much as looking up to heaven "beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner'" (Luke 18:13 NIV). In this context, Jesus contrasted the words of a self-righteous Pharisee ("'God, I thank you that I am not like . . . this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get'") with those of the tax collector. He said, "'. . . this [tax collector] went to his house justified rather than the [Pharisee}, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (ib., v.14).

In order to receive mercy, one must humble himself, thus acknowledging tacitly there is a reason why mercy should not be extended. If the person from whom one is requesting mercy is merciful, then mercy will likely be extended. There is a pithy statement that goes: "Grace is getting what you don't deserve; mercy is not getting what you do deserve."

In confining my search for mercy strictly to the Bible, I found the following expressions. In no particular order: "show mercy," "without mercy," "receive mercy," "great mercy," "full of mercy," "rich in mercy," "had mercy," "desire mercy," "love mercy," "withhold mercy," "with mercy," "request mercy," "cry for mercy," "lift up my voice for mercy," "gets no mercy," and "beg for mercy."

When someone asks another person to "have mercy," the implication is that a punishment, though deserved, can also be withheld, if the one who can extend mercy chooses to.

I remember seeing a movie--a "western"--years ago, in which a bad guy begs the protagonist (Clint Eastwood?) for mercy. The protagonist says wryly, "How is it that those who ask for mercy never give it?"

That reminds me of the ancient story of a debtor and his creditor. The creditor to whom the debtor owed a huge sum showed him mercy and forgave the debt. What did the ecstatic man who had been shown mercy do? He turned around and withheld mercy from one of his own debtors, who owed him a piddling sum. He then had him put in debtors' prison until the last penny was repaid. Ironic, isn't it?

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If I am extending mercy on someone at time X, am I also having mercy on them at time X, or did I have mercy on them at a time before X which caused me to extend mercy at time X? – Chris Morris Feb 18 '13 at 5:21
@ChrisMorris: That's a good question! When you extend mercy TO someone (not ON someone), you are said to be "having mercy." Mercy is not received until it is offered. A merciful person can entertain the IDEA of having mercy years before doing so. On the other hand, a merciful person could decide to have mercy just seconds after being asked for mercy. For example, if the person who is begging for mercy is able to elicit pity from the potential giver of mercy, then the latter will likely extend mercy. Make sense? – rhetorician Feb 18 '13 at 23:53
So extending mercy and having mercy are two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Let me know if I misinterpreted your comment. – Chris Morris Feb 20 '13 at 0:49
Yes, that sounds right to me. – rhetorician Feb 20 '13 at 1:29

Both your questions may be answered with “yes”. In many cases the two phrases may be used almost interchangeably, but in some examples of having mercy one finds a sense of “possessing mercy”, that is, being possessed of a quality of mercy; and in some examples of extending mercy, the phrase “extending mercy to” occurs, which suggests actively projecting mercy to rather than acquiescently having mercy upon.

Google ngrams for having mercy,extending mercy shows that both phrases occur rather rarely, with the former usually more frequent than the latter. Google ngrams for having mercy,extending mercy,have mercy,extend mercy shows that the participial forms occur at most 1% as often as the simple form have mercy.

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Is it possible to have mercy on someone without extending mercy to them? I know that you can have pity on someone or have compassion for someone, but how can you 'acquiescently having mercy upon' someone? It seems to me like having mercy always involves some sort of action (ie. extending mercy). – Chris Morris Feb 12 '13 at 19:50

If you are asking about the expression, then have mercy on(upon) is the correct one, which means to show compassion or forgiveness. Extending mercy or extend mercy means to include someone within one's scope of mercy.

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What does it mean to "include someone within one's scope of mercy?" – Chris Morris Feb 12 '13 at 19:50

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