Thoughts on the Beatitudes (10) - Evan Gear

Matthew 5:7 — Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
We hear this word quite often. We use it in prayer and in pious conversation. But if we were asked to define it could we?

So much of our Christian discourse is full of this sort of thing — the use of language that, when pressed, we really don’t understand. So, what is this thing called mercy? How shall we define it?
I have heard it contrasted to grace. Grace is getting what we do not deserve while mercy is not getting what we do. While helpful, I prefer something positive or less passive. To be merciful is more than refraining from doing something. It is a heartfelt concern for people in need.
Here the blessed ones are described in such terms — their heart goes out to those in need. In this sense, the verse is the first of the beatitudes to focus on our relationships to one another. As the decalogue itself turns from our duty toward God to our duty toward man so, here, the beatitudes take a turn. Jesus sends us to our neighbor but not blindly. He does not send us to be kind in a general, bland way. He sends us to have mercy as those who have known poverty of spirit in the presence of God, who have mourned over sin, who are meek and hunger for righteousness… as such, we are called to be merciful; as such, we are called to blessedness.
To put it another way, we are called to love our neighbor in the light of the Gospel. Concern for the ungodly, the stranger to the covenant, the sinner and the enemies of God. Concern for their eternal souls, a willingness to be kind in order that in our kindness they might discern the kindness of the God we serve.
As Jesus says in Luke’s version of this sermon:
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:32-35).
Tellingly, he concludes the section with these words which I quoted last week:
36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
It is, after all, the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). How will they know kindness, true kindness, if they do not find it in the house of God?
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