“They got what they deserved.” Have you ever heard, or maybe used the phrase? On the face, it seems to be reasonable and just. If someone acts outside the normally accepted rules, they should expect whatever consequences that come along with that action. After all, our whole judicial system is based on, or used to be, appropriate punishment for the crime. Even in scripture we read “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” These days, retribution, retaliation and even revenge, seem to be acceptable reactions when we feel that we have been wronged. Our world lives with the boast that “I don’t get mad, I get even.”
But then Jesus comes along and offers an option that is not only unconventional, but downright uncomfortable at times, and maybe even unnatural.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
Jesus is saying here that kingdom people will grant mercy instead of quick judgement. He seems to be saying that a person’s guilt or innocence is not the most important question, but our willingness to be gracious, compassionate and forgiving. The way He presents it, it is more of a character trait than it is an action. He said “blessed are the merciful”, not blessed are those who do merciful things. If mercy is nothing more than an activity, it can be feigned. We could then chose to extend our compassion to some and withhold it from others. However, if it’s part of who we are, we don’t have to make those distinctions.
The word translated “merciful”, in Matthew 5:7, actually means compassionate. But the word is much stronger than just having pity. Mercy carries with it the idea of being moved to action.
Compassion is the character that consumes us, and drives us, and mercy is it’s hands and feet. Jesus links the two by calling us merciful. With that, we don’t see a need and just have pity, but we are driven to act on that need. God’s will for His kingdom is that, while His people walk through this life, we will be moved to help those whom He puts in our path.
However, with that said, we must never define mercy purely in the context of good deeds. Then it can be reduced to nothing more than legalistic activity which can be void of a truly compassionate spirit.
There is a verse in Matthew 18:33 that provides both a powerful example and motivation for being merciful.
“Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’”
Jesus, Himself, gave us an example by showing mercy to each of us, instead of giving us “what we deserved.”
The motivation comes from both parts of this verse. First of all, the first part of the verse sounds like so much more than a mere suggestion, don’t you think?Secondly, His mercy for us has set the bar for our mercy toward others.
The antithesis is found in James 2:13 ;
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Though negative in nature, this verse also serves as a motivation toward mercy. Mercy should have no boundaries. Race, social standing, politics or one’s sinful condition, should not negate the power that we have to show them mercy.
Now, with us being human, some situations of showing mercy are more difficult than others. For instance, if we see a family, through no fault of their own, hungry and destitute, compassion is an easy response. But if someone who has wronged us needs help, it becomes a different story. It seems that we must draw from a much deeper place that also includes forgiveness. Jesus wants to develop us to that place where our responses are not that difficult.
The scripture is replete with both commentary and examples of mercy, and being merciful. The fractured and divided world in which we live today, desperately needs a little mercy. If only someone could start reaching across this vast spectrum of disagreement and say “here, let me help you”, who knows what healing could be brought about. But, I feel the only way this will ever happen is in the hearts of God’s redeemed. Transformed lives, showing transforming mercy and grace to a desperate world. That is our calling. This is a law of the kingdom.
Those who live a life of mercy, have not only obtained mercy already, but will yet receive mercy.