So far, we have read about some of the blessings for disciples of Jesus as they undergo a series of spiritual awakening and transformation – what now? Here comes our fifth beatitude,
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)
What does it mean to be merciful? And what exactly is mercy? Mercy is a gracious disposition in response to the affliction and helplessness of those around us. It encompasses a certain degree of forgiveness, and a certain degree of non-retaliation. It does not mean turning a blind eye to evil but rather means to repay evil with good, and hatred with love. It is what a genuine Christian would manifest – and above all, it is inseparable from the holy character of our God (Luke 6:36, Ephesians 2:4, Titus 3:5; Psalm 86:15). In fact, on one account, Moses asked God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:18-19), and instead of showing Moses His righteousness through His law, God chose to mention His mercy and compassion!
When we reach the second clause however, we are perhaps confused. Upon first glance of this statement, it seems as though that Jesus is teaching to us that God grants mercy on the condition of our merciful works to others. Is he really overthrowing God’s progressive revelation of His salvation plan throughout the Bible, favouring those who earn salvation through works, through being merciful? How are we to reconcile the two, both which are Jesus’ teaching and therefore not to be ignored?
In Luke 10:25-37, when asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life,” Jesus directed the teacher of the Law to the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27). The teacher wanted to justify himself and so he asked, “Who is my neighbour?” It is here that Jesus then gave the parable of the good Samaritan. And what is significant about this parable is that, historically, the animosity between the Samaritans and the Jews was stark (Ezra 4, Nehemiah 4, Luke 9:51-56). If anything, it would have been understandable for the Samaritan to see the man, “and pass by on the other side”. Yet, we were told that the Samaritan saw the man, took pity and so went up to him and helped, at the expense of his own time, property, comfort and safety – all without expecting a return.
The Samaritan has demonstrated mercy, which is somehow unconventional in today’s world. We might thirst for mercy, especially when we are in the wrong, but not so when we are in the right. And besides, being merciful often means being vulnerable to the possibility of others taking advantage of our kindness. And not to mention the sacrifice that we’ll have to make as well – our time, resources, comfort, and safety – to attend to their needs. Needless to say, it seems unnecessary to inconvenience ourselves in this way.
And yet, Jesus didn’t think it was inconvenient for him to display his mercy on us. In fact, he came down to earth to take on human flesh, to die a death he didn’t deserve, so that you and I can be totally forgiven – all because of God’s mercy! There is now “no condemnation” for those who believe in Him (Romans 8:1). So how do we read this beatitude?
We are in no way earning God’s forgiveness by being merciful to others, but as the recipient of God’s marvellous grace to sinners like you and me, we now cannot help but be merciful to others. Our actions then speak of what’s in our inner heart, thereby announcing that we are a Christian.
Let’s pray this prayer together so that as we are confronted by our own sins and come face to face with the need for God’s mercy, we could be merciful to others as one made alive in Christ.
“Lord, you chose mercy over your righteous anger; forgiveness over condemnation, please fill my heart with the same compassion. Enable my heart to follow your command to go and do likewise to others. Amen.”