Time and again throughout the Old Testament we read multiple references to mercy as an attribute of God as well as a call and command for his people to be merciful unto others. In the New Testament, this same attribute is ascribed to Jesus and described in multiple encounters he had with people. Often the mercy of Jesus is held in contrast to the lack of mercy shown by others. The narrative in Mark 10:46-52 is an example: Blind Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” While others rebuked him and told him to be quiet. Jesus, however, stopped, called him, conversed and healed him.
The Beatitudes describe mercy particularly, as an attribute of one belonging to the Kingdom of God (a Christian). Now we may well ask, do not others outside the Kingdom display both feelings and acts of mercy? Of course! We are all made in the image of God so even in our sinful state we know something of love, kindness, mercy… but we all fall short. In our sinfulness, we sadly know the extremes in unkindness and on being merciless towards the distress of others. Under Nazism, Hitler enforced mercy as weakness.
So what are we to make of this Beatitude? The mercy of God rises above all we could ever aspire to be in ourselves. It becomes the gift of God, through Christ, that we become like him. So mercy becomes us as we follow Jesus as our Lord. The more we hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God the more we may know and be transformed. The stories in the Bible are written so we may see and understand such an attribute like mercy in action. Before we look to some stories another observation: This fifth Beatitude follows the fourth. Mercy follows righteousness. The two give balance to each other. That is, I will not become so dogmatic in righteousness and expectation towards others without mercy; I will not be so taken in mercy that righteousness will become compromised. An example is in John 8. The woman caught in adultery and used by the Pharisees to trap Jesus in the practise of the Law. Jesus did not condemn her but he did say, “Go and sin no more.”
Mercy is a virtue that heightens one’s emotion but it is very much an action that responds no matter if the distress of another is caused by their own fault or not. The parable of the Good Samaritan shows mercy in the most unexpected manner according to the culture and practices of the day- he showed mercy to the one left injured by robbers through no fault of his own.
Then again, Jesus was savaged (over and over again) by the culture when he went and sat with the ‘Riff Raff’ “When the teachers of the Law who were Pharisees (the dogmatic teachers and instructors of Righteousness!) saw (Jesus) eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked…. ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:13-17)
The mercy of the Beatitudes drives us out. Perhaps we may find we don’t need to go looking, but the distressed are in our everyday encounters. “If I weep for the body from which the soul has departed, should I not weep for the soul from which God has departed?” (Augustine)
May God bless as you reflect on his Word.
HYMN: Tell me the Old, Old Story – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqSIMQaeAds
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in, that wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin;
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon, the ‘early dew’ of morning has passed away at noon.
Tell me the old, old story, tell me…..
PRAYER: My gracious Father, I am thankful for this new day given to me. I am grateful that you have chosen to speak a language that I may understand and you have given your Holy Spirit to enable me to know such things that I could never know through my own doing. Thank you for the Bibles that sit so freely around me in which your speech is remembered. Increase within me I pray the desire to read, to listen, that I may know you more; and now give, as you have promised, the strength, the discernment, and the power of your Spirit’s presence. To live these truths in the day now before me. In the name of Christ my Saviour. AMEN