March 3, 2020
Mercy leads to mercy
Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy”
One of the truest observations about our lives is the way that we seek for “justice” and “a reckoning” for others, but deeply desire mercy for ourselves. Little children will gladly tattle on their classmates but want clemency for themselves when they are caught breaking the rules. As adults, we can easily explain away our own failures with the conditional, “If you just understood my situation…” Parents will move heaven and earth to get their children leniency when they get into trouble, legal or otherwise. Our emotional desire for mercy is as understandable as it is ever-present, and yet we often see others solely through a different lens, especially when we are the ones wronged.
In this beatitude, Jesus is not downplaying the reality that there must be accountability for actions, for there is truly right and wrong in the moral, social, and spiritual arenas. He pronounces the blessedness of the virtue of being merciful, because in his understanding of the nature of God and our world that God has made, mercy is more fundamental than even justice. It is more basic, because it expresses the most essential feature of God’s way of treating us.
God’s righteous commands for how we are to live, His expectations for us to live justly, and God’s judgement against sin establish our calling as His human creatures. Indeed, the Almighty One is holy and He wants us all, but especially His people who know Him, to be holy. Holiness involves justice and obedience. However, were God’s demands for correct behavior and right values the only or the most determinate essential feature of God’s character and nature, then the world would be without hope. To gain the most foundational vision of God’s nature we may simply look to Jesus, who said “If you’ve seen me you have seen the Father.”
Jesus, as introduced in Matthew’s gospel, is described by an angel to Joseph in a dream as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s great prophecy: “…a virgin shall bear a son and you will call his name Immanuel – God with us.” Joseph is told to name him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus is a gift to the world from God the Father Himself – given because of God’s holy nature. The Holy One gives to the world out of His righteousness – in response to our sin – a savior. He shows that “God is with us.” In the Gospel of John this wondrous thought expressed: “This is the way that God loved the world, he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” [ESV]. Jesus reveals God truly, whose nature is to love and save.
Before God, then, being recipients of mercy is the most basic condition of our lives. It does not await our seeking it but precedes our awareness of needing compassion and clemency. The poor in spirit know this and mourn their need for mercy, even as they grieve over the world’s condition and meekly submit themselves to the authority of God’s way and will out of a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness to fill and shape their own lives and the world. The people who embody the virtues of the earlier beatitudes know God’s mercy is their portion in life.
Knowing this, the only honest response is living mercifully towards others, which is why later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells them to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He is not suggesting that we want God’s forgiveness to be contingent on our first deserving it because we are forgiving. No! He is saying when we receive God’s forgiveness, we must be shaped by that regarding the offences of others against us. If we are not and refuse forgiveness, we blaspheme the tremendous gift of God to our lives. Mercy for us, mercy to others.
Mercy from us means more than forgiving. Knowing mercy, we see the needs of others with eyes of love and concern, which means we see them as God has seen and treated us in our need. Mercy looks on the needy and responds in loving service in an act of self-giving love in the desire to help in the best way possible. Mercy does not make excuses or delay action or postpone concern. The merciful give of themselves, just like our Father.
Knowing we have received and are living in God’s mercy, we will see others in our world as fellow-travelers. We know a “secret,” like the proverbial beggar who found bread and tells his friends. The grace-given kingdom of heaven is the realm the merciful person lives in, so she wants to share it with others.
Those who are merciful in the here-and-now will receive mercy from God at the end, not because they have earned it, but as a result of living in it every day and show it in every way: mercy, which is God’s first and final gift.