Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. -Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:7
The concept of mercy is something I struggle to understand and accept. My experience of being shown mercy by the world has not been life-changing or particularly humbling, especially living in a ‘quid-pro-quo’ society, where desiring mercy is seen as a sign of weakness. If you know me, (even if not terribly well) you will also know that I’m not the most empathetic person. If I’m not careful, people become issues to solve; ministry becomes merely a dispensary of God’s correctional truth without a demonstration of His loving grace. It was verses like Matthew 5:7 that actually stopped me from becoming a Christian. Other verses include Matthew 6:33 ‘Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, and all these will be given unto you’ and Matthew 7:1 ‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged’. So many principles.
I wonder how many of us have looked at passages like these and gone: ‘I can’t do that, the standards are too high’. Mercy, righteousness, judgement, all these concepts seem too impossible to achieve, and if these were really the commands of God, of a loving God no less, why do they sound so demanding, cold and detached? Why give us something that, no matter how hard we strive, we can never fulfill? And if we’re blessed because we are merciful, then surely we stand condemned.
So, I think it’s time to read these instructions within the context of Jesus’s life.
If we look at this verse simply as a principle to be followed, then we won’t get very far. If we look at the life of Jesus as merely a good teacher, then we might as well study another figure of history. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (where this verse is a part of) is one of the 50 Speeches that Changed the World. What makes Him different from all the other 49 eloquent speech-givers? From Martin Luther King Junior, Mahatma Gandhi and the like?
I think if we read further down into the passage, verses 17-20 put His instructions into context.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”- Matthew 5:17-20
Jesus tells us what the standards of righteousness are; He tells us that He didn’t come to make all of these impossibly-hard-to-achieve standards null, but to fulfil every single one of them. I think this is where the game-changer lies. If you do need a reason to believe in Christ today, maybe consider this: He claims to fulfil the laws set by God.
The Bible doesn’t have a singular definition of what it means to be merciful, but we could just look at Jesus’s life to discern what it truly means to live mercifully. Healing lepers; forgiving prostitutes; saving those who killed Him. It culminates on the cross– for sinners past, present and future; and His resurrection from the dead fulfils the latter part of this verse, that we have already actually ‘received mercy’, not from our friends and family, (Christian or not) but from God. Therefore, because of that, we are blessed. Being blessed means to be in a right relationship with God. As an effect of recognising and internalizing such sheer grace, we can therefore be merciful.
In my walk with Christ, I see how He works within me to produce mercy. I can’t mount up sufficient mercy to deal with difficult people in my life; nor am I humble enough to surrender as Christ did. Thankfully, though, the point of the Christian life is not to seek after mercy and grace; the point is to thank God for His already present forgiveness, and to live in recognition of that in our everyday life. Because Christ was merciful towards me (taking my failings and saying ‘you are forgiven’), I am free to be merciful; But first, I am free to admit that I cannot merciful in my own strength; I am free to allow Him to change that and conform me into His likeness. I am free from my self-righteousness and given a renewed worldview- one which allows me to love sinners like myself.
The only thing worth groaning about is how far I’ve fallen short of His mercy (when I snap at people or when I choose truth without grace), but the one thing worth celebrating about is God’s assurance that we shall be made perfect in Christ. His mercy culminates on the cross, but it doesn’t stop there.
His mercies are new every morning.
I count myself truly, immeasurably blessed.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” – Lamentations 3:22-23