Blessed Are the Merciful, for They Will Obtain Mercy

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I will never forget the awful, sick feeling that came over me the day I watched someone in my life get what she deserved.

She was a bitter, judgmental, hypercritical person. She’d brought negativity and pain into so many lives. She never really had time or grace for others.

That day, I watched it come back to bite her. On a day when she’d achieved something wonderful and should have had others to rejoice with her, people responded with indifference or even cynicism. She was alone.

She deserved it.

It was horrible.

I realized that day that I have often wanted people to get what they deserve. At least, that’s what I thought I wanted. I’d probably wanted that for this particular person. But now that it was actually happening, all I could see was the truly heartbreaking consequences of sin. I couldn’t rejoice in it at all. It broke my heart.

Honestly, in that moment it didn’t matter that she’d sown what she was reaping. It didn’t matter that she deserved it. All I wanted was for people to forgive. To throw themselves into her celebration with the joy of grace freely given and transform her harvest into something she DIDN’T deserve.

I’d never realized until that day how precious and beautiful mercy truly is.

Father, Forgive Them

The fifth blessing of the kingdom, tightly bound with righteousness in the very heart of the Beatitudes, is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.” Few things reveal the character of God like mercy does.

Mercy, in both Greek and Hebrew, is more than just a judicial “letting someone off the hook.” For some reason, when I view it that way, I always see it being done with an air of indifference or even condescension.

But the Greek word is emotional. It’s empathetic. The idea IS that of a judge letting someone off, but doing so because he sees the misery that justice would bring. He sees the wretchedness of the accused and feels for him.

In Hebrew, the word often translated “mercy” is even stronger. It actually comes from a root word for womb. The word is rachamim, and it indicates a deep, gut-level empathy and identification with the one suffering.

On some level, this is why Jesus came. Because he saw what we had coming to us and couldn’t stomach it. Because he looked at people who deserved to reap misery and desperately wanted to change their harvest. He came to let adulteresses off the hook and tell them to go and sin no more. He came to kick the demons out of people who’d been reduced to living among the tombs in self-harm and self-hatred. He came to look sinful people square in the face and call them children of God.

When he was beaten, bloodied, mocked, betrayed, and about to die, Jesus looked at his executioners–people absolutely dripping with guilt–and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The High Cost of Mercy

Mercy does not come without a cost. Injustice is real, sin is real, and people really do get hurt. Sometimes it seems like our whole being screams out for retribution. If mercy is going to be shown to perpetrators, it’s going to cost us. We will have to let go of our need to be satisfied.

This is why the blessing Jesus gives is conditional: he doesn’t say “blessed are the whole human race, for they will all obtain mercy.” Rather, he requires that we show mercy if we want to obtain it. We need God’s compassion and empathy for us. We need his forgiveness desperately. But we also need to be willing to create a new cycle, to let go of our own demands for justice.

Forgiveness is offered to us freely, but we have to empty our hands if we want to receive it. We can accept the gospel, but we also have to be the gospel. If you want mercy, live mercy.

We must become mercy to others, to learn to share Jesus’s heart of compassion. Otherwise we block our own blessing by insisting that we want to stay in the cycle of sowing and reaping sin and its consequence, death.

A New Cycle

As I pointed out last week, our desire for justice is a catch-22 because we are not, ourselves, innocent. No one is. The more we insist that others should get what’s coming to them, the more we agree that we too must get what’s coming to us. We can’t have it both ways: either we live in the cycle of sin and death or we don’t.

Mercy offers us a way out. It acknowledges the wrongdoing for what it is–wrong, and deserving of punishment. But it chooses to bestow grace instead. It chooses to forgive. It hates the thought of anyone suffering through the consequences of their own actions because it realizes just how truly awful those consequences actually are.

Of course, not everyone will obtain mercy. The Bible is clear about that. Jesus offers us a new cycle: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

But it’s up to the individual to enter that new life or not, and that’s between them and God. We can offer mercy to all, but not everyone will receive it. Not everyone will be willing to pay the price: to receive forgiveness for ourselves means offering it to those who have hurt us too.

The Freedom of Forgiveness

Ultimately, the crux of the beatitudes–the twin blessings of righteousness and mercy–underscore the incredible promise of the gospel: everything WILL be made right, creation WILL be reconciled, peace WILL reign, and life WILL triumph, but they’ll do it through the back door–not by coming and slaying God’s enemies in a flood or a fire, but by redeeming and transforming them through mercy.

It’s cosmically counterintuitive, and it’s beautiful. It’s hope, and it’s freedom.

Mercy and forgiveness do cost us. But everyone who has embraced them will attest to the freedom they bring. Rather than binding us, letting go of our need for retribution sets us free from the whole cycle of judgment. It releases us, and the whole creation around us, into the possibility of newness: of a future loosed from the chains of the past.

Mercy is our only hope. Give it, receive it. If you do, you are truly blessed.

(This is Part 27 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)



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One response to “Blessed Are the Merciful, for They Will Obtain Mercy”

  1. S Avatar

    We have no right to decide what people deserve. You may be very wrong in your opinion. If that is the case and you are judging another based on an opinion you have made without facts or admission by the person, who are we to hold any opinion. I have been judged harshly for things people ARE SURE I did and they were wrong. Try swallowing that pill. People have formed an opinion based on gossip. This has left permanent scars and trust issues. Try being punished for a crime that is not true and is spread from one person to another with them adding more untruths, bitterness, exaggerations. It’s devestating I choose to love. I choose to not listen to others opinions on other people. I choose to love for what I see.
    God bless

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