Today we come to consider the fifth beatitude. Verse 7.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
We need to start with the meaning of the word ‘mercy’ before we move on. Mercy comes from the Middle English word misericorde, which comes from the Latin word misericordia. This is actually from two words – miserans and cor. Or miseria cordis. Miserans means pitying and cor means heart, so miseria cordis means ‘pain of heart’.
So the word mercy supposes two things; to have an object in distress, and to have a heart that feels pain at that distress.
It is a word similar to compassion and pity, and as such it is a word of love.
A merciful man will, therefore, enter into the pain of his neighbour. He will feel for him and mourn with him. So in effect he becomes part of God’s work to bring the comfort promised to those who mourn in the second beatitude.
Mercy is God’s love at work in the heart of his children. Those who allow mercy to work through them will find that they also receive mercy. God loves all his children, but it is as though there is a connection between your giving and your receiving.
The pain a man, or woman, of course, feels in mercy uses the same Hebrew word as that used for the travail of childbirth.
We have been shown love by God, and we should love others. We have been shown mercy by God, and we should be merciful to others. When we fail to do this we are doing the opposite of showing mercy, which we can call revenge.
Matthew 18:21–35 is the parable of the unmerciful servant. In this story a master forgave a servant an enormous debt, but then that servant threw a fellow servant in jail for a much smaller debt. When the master found out he was terribly angry at the servant and ‘his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.’
If you seek revenge, God will withdraw his mercy from you.
Jesus set us our example for how to live. His example was a life of mercy. Don’t you think he wants us, his followers, to show the same mercy he showed the world. Don’t you think Jesus meant it when he told us that we should love our neighbour as ourself.
Love is the whole gospel. Love is the good news. Love is how God will save this world.
But he needs you and me to express this love to the lost people of this world. He needs you and me to take his mercy out into this world. It is not to be kept in this room and saved for Sunday. It is to go out there with you and get used.
Matthew 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Jesus was patient and compassionate, and merciful, when crowds of sick and demon possessed people came to him. They asked him for healing, and he showed them God’s love and mercy by healing them. He looked upon the masses as sheep without a shepherd, and so he devoted a great deal of time and effort to teaching them about God’s kingdom. He taught them how it could become a reality in their lives.
When he was confronted with a woman who was committing a sexual sin, Jesus refused to say one hurtful word about her. He showed her compassion and then advised her that a wise response to his forgiveness was to start a new life.
It was most important to Jesus that she knew that God loved her. It was less important that she knew she was a sinner. The good news is that God loves sinners.
This is how we are to treat the people we meet from day to day who are in need of God’s mercy and love. We don’t say to the drunk, how awful you are for being drunk. We tell them how much God loves them. We show mercy.
Jesus gave us the example of the good Samaritan, who didn’t just take the time to speak words of love but actually put that love into practise by picking up the victim and putting himself to great trouble and cost to assure the man’s safety and care.
Even on the cross, as he was about to die, Jesus showed mercy. He prayed to the father for the people who had tortured him and mocked him and nailed him to the cross.
This kind of love is crazy. This crazy love is the kind of love we are called to live out every day.
This is the kind of love that the first Christians practised. Not just forgiving the people who persecuted them but reaching out to the poor and marginalised of the first century. Others turned a blind eye to the poor, like the privileged young professionals in a study by Leeds University. Two-thirds of these wealthy and ambitious Brits thought they had no responsibility at all to help those worse off than themselves.
A lack of mercy is not only vengeful, it shows contempt for human dignity by taking advantage of others for personal gain, and kicking them while they are down.
The New Testament has a strong and consistent teaching that we should take care of the poor and the widows within the church.
The early Christians lived out this emphasis on practical mercy, and we are called to do the same. (See Acts 6:1 and 1 Timothy 5:3.) They upset Emperor Julian in the fourth century so much that he complained about the mercy being shown by the Christians. He said: “These impious Galileans support not merely their own poor, but ours as well.”
We are continuing a long tradition of mercy when we act with love.
Followers of Jesus were responsible for the abolition of slavery, setting up schools and hospitals, and providing aid to the two-thirds world.
But this way of living is in danger, and it is up to us to keep it alive. Materialism is leading many to believe that money and possessions matter more than love. This is seen in rising levels of selfishness as people seek any way they can to avoid paying the taxes needed to fund universal health care, for example.
There is a rising tide of immorality. This manifests itself in increased violent crime, in signs that many young people are unable to tell the difference between right and wrong. The Bible says that revenge is God’s, but many people today cling so tightly to the desire for revenge they ruin their lives.
God’s way should be our way. And in the fifth beatitude God tells us that his way is for everyone to have mercy on everyone else, starting with us.
This is the Christmas season. It is the time of year when we remember how God sent a baby into this world to teach us about love. It is also a time when we need to remember that this baby grew up loving and having mercy on everyone until he was killed on the cross.
He left us to carry on his work. Thousands, millions of us across the world who are willing to love and forgive and to have mercy just as he did, so that all those who do not know how much God loves them can experience it through us. Our job, yours and mine, is to love the lost sheep of the world with all our heart and soul and strength. And to do that you have be merciful.