Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Here are four different translations of today’s text (Matthew 5:7) from Jesus preaching his “Sermon on the Mount:”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (NRSV)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (NIV)
“God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy!” (CEV)
“Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them!” (GNT)
Let’s be clear. The definition of mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” To make it very clear, mercy is the opposite of cruelty and it is opposed to revenge. Mercy is related to the ideas of leniency, tolerance, charity, generosity, grace, and humanitarianism. One Christian educator defined mercy as “love that responds to human need in an unexpected and unmerited way.”
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen, he describes mercy in relation to love: “ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Jesus spends a great deal of time teaching about mercy.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37
The letter of James says this: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.- James 2:12-13
You might notice that this blessing is less confusing that the first of the beatitudes. It seems strange when Jesus says that “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those are meek, and those who hunger for righteousness,” are all blessed. Those first lines describe uncomfortable situations that lead to surprising blessings from God. But here at verse 7, we go to more familiar territory: Jesus is making an obvious statement.
Around the world people would not be surprised to hear that violent people receive violence or that kind people are more likely to receive kindness. It is basic human behavior. If you invite people into your house, you are more welcome in their houses. If you help someone to plant their field, they are likely to help you as your plant your own. Some people might call this karma or reciprocity. It just means that we are often treated as we treat others.
So, the news that “the merciful will receive mercy” shouldn’t be confusing to anyone. There will be plenty of people who disagree with it, but they will understand what you are saying.
Some people don’t want to be merciful because is not fair and balanced. Some people prefer to live by strict rules with dependable outcomes. Others see mercy as weakness, because you are passing up on an opportunity to hurt a potential enemy. This may sound outlandish, but it is common in international relations and business. “Self-interest” is the basic thought in economics, so hurting the competition is seen as right behavior.
You might expect to hear Jesus say “give people what they deserve,” but he does not. Instead, he says, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12). So, if you desire mercy, be merciful; if you desire love be loving; if you desire help, be helpful. We do not treat people as they deserve, just as God does not hold us accountable for all the laws we break and all the damage we do. When people were expecting the messiah, they imagined a powerful king who would serve as a harsh judge to the nations. Instead, we have Jesus Christ who loves us and defends us and even pays our penalties.
Mercy is not weakness. Mercy is the only path to heaven. Because God is merciful, we can be merciful. Because we are merciful, God is pleased. God loves us and leads us to salvation, step by step. As we feel his love, we should share his love in the form of mercy to others.
What does it look like if we show mercy?
We don’t hold onto grudges (even if they are old). We seek reconciliation when we can,
but we always seek to let go of our hatred for others.
We don’t seek revenge or “get even.”
For those who must be jailed for public safety, we abstain from all cruelty.
We treat others better than they treat us.
We pray for our enemies.
We cooperate and seek compromise for the good of others.
We look for new opportunities to show love and kindness.
We do our best to live peacefully with all.
We give people the opportunity to change for the better.
We treat all people with dignity and the knowledge that they are children of God whether they know it or not.
Questions to Ponder: Are you holding any grudges? Can you truly accept forgiveness from others?