Blessed Are The Merciful
Thankfully, our beatitude for this week actually seems to make sense! Maybe we’d like to disagree with, “blessed are those who mourn,” or “blessed are the meek.” But, “blessed are the merciful” sounds different - at least at first glance.
Because, we, simplistically, tend to associate being merciful with being nice. If you’re nice to people… it stands to reason they’ll be nice to you! If you cut others some slack, it’s reasonable to expect the same in return. If you’re a forgiving person… you’ve got a far greater chance of receiving forgiveness than a non-forgiving person. It sounds kind of straightforward… a common sense proverb, and promise from Jesus.
Except, it’s not so simple. First of all it begs the question, “what is mercy?” In Gods word, mercy has a fairly broad meaning. The word includes two main concepts (that you and I are very familiar with): compassion and forgiveness. In other words, to have mercy on someone else is to look with kindness and compassion up on their plight, their condition in life. And to have mercy, or to be merciful, implies a having a forgiving spirit… to deal with other people, as we would like to be dealt with… and not according to the letter of the law, or according to the worldly ideals of what’s right and fair. Mercy goes beyond fairness, and right-ness.
Of course, I personally believe that mercy is an ideal, or an attribute, that must be demonstrated. In other words, mercy is something that must be expressed. To wish for the best is great, as wonderful… The hope for a better day is noble, it’s a positive trait without doubt. But those attributes are not mercy. It may be a nice thought… I commendable attitude, but it’s not mercy.
Mercy is loving action toward those who don’t deserve it - nor have they earned it in any way. Mercy is Grace extended beyond it’s reasonable bounds… It’s EVEN compassion and forgiveness shown to those who have hurt us and caused us pain. It’s forgiveness, in light of having reason, or justification, NOT to forgive.
Of course, we all know mercy when we see it - we strive to be merciful, we experience it at times (and we try to show it).
And the everyday acts of mercy can be so simple. We see someone struggling - a stranger - to change a flat tire, so we stop and offer to help them out. A neighbor is sick, so we cut their lawn... or we take them to a doctors appointment, or carry over a meal for dinner. Those are merciful acts, no doubt. We’ve all tried to offer the compassionate side of mercy to others.
But true, biblical mercy, is demonstrated, when someone has treated us badly in the past, but we refuse to lower ourselves to their level... so we act kindly... despite how they’ve acted.
Which, of course, means that sometimes being merciful is easier said than done! There are times when we’ve been so deeply wounded - so painfully scarred - that no reasonable person would ever expect us to be merciful. There are times - even for me - when the hurt is so acute that it’s almost impossible to feel anything other than resentment, and anger, and bitterness- and the last thing in the world we want to talk about is mercy.
The older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son is a perfect example (in my mind) from God’s word. When the younger, wayward son - who had squandered everything - came to his senses and returned home - the older brother (who’d followed the rules and lived according to the norms and expectations of society and family), resented the father's reaction. “You never threw me a party!” He was overcome by envy, frustration and bitterness - which basically made him incapable of showing mercy.
It wasn’t that Jesus was naive: Jesus understood the human condition - and the way we tend to nurse our wounds and carry grudges. He knew this kind of spirit shuts down our sense of joy and generosity and forgiveness.
So, throughout his ministry, Jesus stressed love and forgiveness, and turning the other cheek, and going above and beyond reasonable expectations.
Of course, few understood.
The fact is, the reason mercy, and living mercifully, is so very important is because mercy is at the very heart of God's character. You may remember the Ark of the Covenant (made popular in contemporary culture by Hollywood, and movies like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Of course, the ark of the covenant was a symbol of God‘s presence. Actually, the Israelites didn’t think the ark was symbolic at all… The ark, for them, was the literal place where God resided... his presence, his home, his dwelling, was the ark... and the ark was eventually kept in the “holy of holies” - the most sacred place within the Temple. It’s very top of the ark, the lid, made of gold, was what was called the “mercy seat.“ It was God’s throne on Earth.
In other words, God’s Throne is mercy!
Of course, again... for many of us mercy does not come easily. The fact is, we’re usually taught just the opposite. Play sports, when you have the lead… need to put the game out of reach… before the opponent has chance to come back (because of that, some sports have instituted the “mercy rule” - where they’ll call a game, or run the clock, if the score is too lopsided). In business, it’s a dog eat dog world, and you have to have a “killer instinct” if you’re going out do the competition, if you’re going to get ahead. You got a strike first… You got a hit them hard… You got to get them before they get a chance to get you.
Having no mercy is what’s most often glorified in our culture… Which is the very opposite of God’s nature.
God whose presence and dwelling was experienced at the mercy seat... the God who is enthroned upon mercy, God in Christ... of whom the apostle Paul wrote, “while we were yet sinners” he, Christ, died for us… He bestowed mercy upon us! Our God is the God of mercy.
Mercy - not sentimentality! Not simply forgiving and having compassion with no expectations of the other. You may remember when the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus. Jesus said to her accusers: “if you’re without sin cast the first stone,” and her accusers all walked away. Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven, but then he also said to this woman, “go and sin no more.” Mercy… God’s mercy... requires forgiveness... but it also demands… it requires… accountability.
Of course, mercy was central in the parables of Jesus. Good Samaritan is a prime example! When Jesus asked, which of these was a neighbor to the man in need, the lawyer replied, “the one who showed mercy.” And Jesus said, “go and do likewise!” This is more than just a call to nice-ness. Jesus was saying there is no person, or group, from whom mercy and compassion can be withheld. There’s no boundary. Just as there’s no limit to God‘s forgiveness, and no limit to how many Christ would feed, and no border that he would not cross, and no sinner who wasn’t welcome at his table… No one should be allowed to just lie wounded on the road.
And mercy brings about more mercy. It becomes a way of life! It’s a way of life the draws is not only closer to God - but closer to one another - as we reflect his character by choosing to offer mercy rather than vengeance.