Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
The barbershop was crowded and chaotic. Two women, who I took to be sisters, had brought themselves and the associated six children for haircuts. The teenage girls among them fondled the many hair-care products, the moms looked like they needed naps, and the smallest of the crowd enjoyed making mayhem. He was, as many three-year-old boys exemplify, moderately out of control. I heard the warnings from his mother, all of them. Apparently, he did not.
In an instant, the tike’s mother snatched him from the ground and swooped toward the door. The startled little guy quickly clasped both hands over his bottom and cried out, “No mommy, don’t spank me!” By the set of her jaw and the speed of her departure, it seemed his pediatric cry for mercy was not going to bring the desired result. Justice demanded a paddling. Even I thought so.
When the two of them came back inside, barely five minutes later, mom was calm and relaxed, and the little boy was calm and not tearful, carried gently in mom’s arms. He had indeed received mercy. He had not received what he justly deserved. In that tiny moment of parenting, mom knew that mercy was needed. She knew there was more than behavior at stake, more than angry punishment required. She dearly loved the little fellow, and that shone through. Even I thought so.
Jesus taught His disciples, and us, that there is a blessedness to being a merciful person. He establishes from the very beginning of His ministry that as His people live Kingdom lives, mercy will characterize them. But what does that mean exactly? How does that look beyond a small vignette in an East Dallas barbershop?
Mercy is the Godly amalgam of forgiveness and compassion. And Scripture is filled with both pointed teaching and examples. Even in the garden of Eden, God’s response to the first humans’ disobedient failure was mercy based on the relationship between God and mankind. Adam and Eve deserved to be destroyed, wiped out and replaced. But God, being rich in mercy, allowed them to survive and even promised them a day of redemption. God is characterized by His mercy. The Bible uses words like “long-suffering” and “slow to anger” and “His mercies are new every morning.”
So to understand what Jesus is emphasizing on that hillside in Galilea, we must first recognize that God has poured out His forgiveness and His compassion on us. God has shown us eternal mercy through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. So now, when you are poor in spirit and have received the Kingdom, when you’ve hungered and thirsted for righteousness and been satisfied, and when you have received comfort in times of mourning, God has shown himself merciful to you.
Paul the Apostle puts it this way, stunningly.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all. Romans 11:29-32
Not long after the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was at a dinner party with some folks who weren’t from the upper crust, folks who knew their need of God’s mercy.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophet Hosea to the Old Testament experts to emphasize that part of representing a merciful God is to be a merciful person. They didn’t get the lesson.
And that brings the questions home to us. Am I, before the Lord, a person who looks upon those around me with a heart of compassion? Do I seek to be slow to anger and quick to forgive? Am I characterized by the unwavering knowledge that God, in Christ, has poured out His mercy on me? And do I, in that knowledge, live a mercy-filled life?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)
Finally, we must be careful not to hear Jesus’ teaching as some sort of religious quid pro quo. We never earn God’s mercy. The greatest blessing we can receive is a living, growing, Spirit-filled relationship with God Almighty. To be blessed for all eternity in the presence of God, through Christ is, in fact, very great mercy. And Scripture sings out with the glorious reality that having received God’s mercy, and then living our lives reflecting that mercy to those around us, will be one of the reasons we’ll hear Jesus say,
His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Matthew 25:21