Prepared by Susan Holmes
Blessed (happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy! (Matthew 5:7)
Jesus makes a plea to be merciful, but let’s be honest, mercy isn’t always the first thought to enter the human mindset. The wounds of a close friend go deep and they leave us stinging. If we’re honest, our first thought is to strike back. Someone gets ahead of us in life by dealing unfairly and gets caught. They get ‘the book thrown at them’ and we smugly declare that ‘they got what they deserved’. Maybe you haven’t felt that way, but there are times I’ve had to hang my head and admit guilt.
But our Father didn’t plan a lifestyle of guilt for us. This series of teaching recorded in the gospel of Matthew is a proclamation of blessings, promising much more than superficial happiness. “But the term “blessed” has a meaning beyond mere “happiness” or “joy”; it is defined here as an “exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God”. (Ross, Allen. “The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew”)
Here is where Christ’s teaching’s crashes head-on with the teaching of this world. Let’s step back for a while to the time and place where Jesus was teaching his band of followers. The challenge was even greater back then because mercy had no place in acceptable behavior at that time. Ancient Roman philosophers referred to mercy as a disease and the ‘ultimate sign of weakness’.
Thankfully, Jesus knows our dilemma. He knows the pressure that was felt to deny mercy in the day of his initial disciples and He knows the pressure we feel from within when it comes to extending mercy. He knows the battle with our ‘self’. Our Merciful Defender doesn’t just demand that we fly in the face of popular thought. He makes us an offer that is hard to turn down if we are honest with ourselves. He offers mercy in return for mercy. If we know the battle to offer mercy, we certainly know the value of receiving mercy.
From where I sit today, I have come to know mercy as one of the most valued gifts that I have been on the receiving end of … and one of the most valuable ones I will ever give. To live without it is to deliberately put myself in a dark prison cell and toss away the key.
The most outstanding depiction of this in scripture is found in Matthew 18:21-35 … the parable of the unmerciful servant. We see one servant heavily in debt to his master for an amount that could never be paid in the servant’s lifetime, so the master was prepared to sell the servant, the servant’s wife and children into slavery in order to recoup some of his money. The servant pleaded for forgiveness and the master, moved with compassion and mercy, knowing he will never see his money, forgives his servant. That same servant, having learned nothing, seeks out a fellow servant who owed him the equivalent of a day’s wage. Unable to pay immediately, the first servant has the second thrown into prison. The master, hearing this and seeing the lack of mercy in the life of the first servant (“Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?”) had him thrown into prison and delivered to his tormentors.
So, what does mercy look like? Today’s dictionary definition would read, “Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm” or “compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion or benevolence”.
But Christ, born with Jewish roots, most likely used the Hebrew word ‘chesed’ which means “the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.” (William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible ). For me, this makes our modern definition of the word seem pretty watered down. It means that mercy requires both thought and action. Mercy is a verb not a feeling or emotion.
Let’s go back to Jesus’s mountain-side classroom. “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.” (Matthew 5:7, The Message) We are being taught to make mercy our life. It isn’t enough to simply feel merciful. As much as we are asked to take Christ into our life, we are asked to make mercy our life. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) A life apart from mercy is a life apart from Christ. A merciless prison is a life without God’s presence. When we choose to live a lifestyle of mercy we are choosing to allow Christ to live through us.
I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous Presence.
from the diary of Christopher Columbus