Blessed Are the Merciful…
“Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7)
Blessed are the merciful, those who know they are but a conduit for His mercy to others, for they shall obtain mercy.
Mercy is other-centered. Mercy is the antidote for judgment.
The fourth beatitude speaks of those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” who desire to have the character of God. The fifth Beatitude is a glimpse into the divine character.
At Mount Sinai, God declares His character to Moses, whom He has placed in the cleft of the rock:
“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate (7349) and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in mercy (2617) and truth, keeping mercy (2617) for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation’” (Exodus 34: 6-7, Strong’s numbers in parentheses).
This passage reveals that mercy, truth, and forgiveness, inextricably tied, are central to the character of God. The difficulty of righteousness, bearing the character of God, from the fourth Beatitude, now becomes clearer, for I find that for me to be merciful and forgiving does not come easily.
We judge without understanding ourselves, the other person, or even the concept of judging. Judging is hard, a burden we were not meant to bear. To judge is to set ourselves in a place above our fellow men. Even Jesus said, “…I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47, see also John 3:17).
Again, Jesus says, “You (Pharisees) judge according to the flesh; I judge no one” (John 8:15). Like a Pharisee, my righteousness exalted in my own mind, I dare to judge. I do it all the time.
Judging implies a lack of peace within and a vain attempt at restoring internal peace by an external action. We do not find enduring peace by correcting something outside of ourselves. That which has disturbed our peace is not outside of us, but is within us.
Our request to God for forgiveness is balanced by a command from Jesus in the middle of what is known as the Lord’s Prayer,
“Forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)
Have we repented of our misdeeds, asking for forgiveness with the assurance that whatsoever we ask will be given? (Matt. 7:7).
There is a simple statement of fact here with regard to judgment, mercy, and forgiveness. If we are in bondage to judgment of our own sins - our misdeeds against God, our fellow men and ourselves - we will find being generous to others, being merciful and forgiving, very difficult tasks.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament commandment to us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 19:19). Substitute the word “forgive” (or “have mercy for”) for “love” and the concept becomes love in action rather than in theory.
John the Baptist, and then Jesus, call us to repent – rethink our actions and resolve to be new persons – and accept the freedom that comes from acknowledging truth and the judgment from God.
Paul says, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?...But now, having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life” (Rom. 6:16, 22).
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Along with repentance come mercy from the penalty of the judgment and forgiveness for the deed. This is the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-2).
In spite of repeated reassurance, the mercy and forgiveness that we seek from God are hard to give to our fellow men.
There is the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man who was forgiven a huge debt by his master, but who exacted payment from a fellow servant who was unable to repay a smaller debt. The master revokes his mercy and condemns the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35). This parable is the fifth Beatitude in action. The unforgiving servant is unforgiven. James says, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
We understand the principle of this parable and assure ourselves that we would never be guilty of such a flagrant violation of the Golden Rule, presented by Jesus as “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” Yet our daily lives are filled with judgment of both self and of neighbor.
Note that judgment and assessment of a situation are not the same thing. The person without hope is a danger to himself. The person who threatens you is a danger to you. The person misrepresenting God is a danger to us all. Each of these three is trapped in a lie. We must respond according to the example Jesus has given.
Matthew tells the story of Jesus and a paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8). Jesus’ first statement to the paralytic was, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.”
Have you ever wondered what might have been the paralytic’s response? As someone physically paralyzed, he was unable to function fully in society. From the religious teaching of the time, his physical condition was seen as the result of his spiritual condition. The Pharisees would say that he had been judged by God and was suffering God’s punishment.
After Jesus pronounced forgiveness, the paralyzed man still lay on his bed, apparently no different from his sinful condition of only moments before. His physical condition appeared unchanged. The man had come with spiritual faith for physical healing. Was he cheered by the good news that his sins had been forgiven?
Jesus confronted the Pharisees’ doubts and then “said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed and go to your house.’“
A contrasting story is told in John 9 where the Pharisees asked Jesus about a man who had been born blind, “’ …who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.’” The truth of the man’s illness was as old as the earth since the Fall. Satan is the origin of sickness.
As in the story of Job, an old story whose meaning had been lost in Israel, Satan is the author of disease and suffering, while God is the healer. Satan is the founder of sin while God is the founder of righteousness. Satan is the “father of lies” (John 9:44) while God is “grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Job’s captivity was broken when he prayed for his friends. The paralytic was healed when his sins were forgiven. The blind man received healing when Satan’s curse was broken. Mercy heals as it is given or received.
Just as each man was healed in a different manner, so will our healing come in a manner specific to us and our situation. We have laid on the altar our beliefs about God, our fellow men, and ourselves, and these will be sifted. The chaff will be taken away and burned, and the wheat will be left behind.
Note that mercy is prompted by the Law, but mercy is embodied in relationship, not in the Law. To receive mercy is to receive restoration of the relationship. Receiving mercy is implicitly agreeing to “sin no more” (John 5:14), agreeing to stay in relationship.
The consolation for the merciful is to receive mercy. “Happy” are the merciful knowing that they will receive mercy. But it is much more than a quid pro quo. There is a terrible burden to bear in judgment and there is freedom in non-judgment.
Judging is an attempt to control outcomes. When I am invested in the outcome of an event, I am in bondage to my expectation. I will work to control that which is beyond my ability to control, and I am enslaved to that control process.
Judging implies a lack of peace within me. When I judge, I am attempting to restore balance and harmony, to exact equal compensation for what has upset my peace.
Mercy toward the other in this situation is mercy toward myself, freeing me of a responsibility that is not mine. Holding onto my neighbor’s sin against me (real or perceived) is to keep the wound exposed so that it festers and becomes toxic. This is the poison of the snake bite, and my only freedom is to pray Genesis 3:15.
The psalmist looks forward to the return of God and His righteousness:
Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed (Psalm 85:10).
This is the blessedness, the happiness, of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for those who are meek, for those who mourn their spiritual poverty.
Mercy is an integral part of the spectrum of light from which all came (John 1:1-9). This is the light that was intended to shine upon us and to flow from us.