To The Merciful

Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Written as part of a sermon series for Third Presbyterian Church on August 7, 2022

The beatitudes don’t make sense.  They are the opposite of our expectations.  It would make more sense to say, woe to those who are hungry because you will starve before winter.  Or woe to the meek because they will be taken advantage of by the greedy.  But Jesus says the opposite of woe, Jesus calls those who are suffering blessed.  Then he promises that their future situation will be different and better.  Blessed are the hungry for they will be satisfied.  Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.  When we look at the blessings promised in the beatitudes, we also have a picture of what it will be like to experience the reign of God: comfort, satisfaction, mercy, inheriting the earth, seeing God, being children of God, and great rewards.  The reign of God is coming even for (and especially for) those who are in situations that make it seem unlikely.  

The beatitude we are talking about today, Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy, is confusing in a different way.  The previous beatitudes we can see the situation get better.  When we think of someone needing mercy, we think of someone in a position of weakness or hopelessness, and the person granting mercy has power over the one who needs it.  We don’t think of the person granting mercy as someone who needs anything.  Aren’t the merciful already in a position of power?  Maybe not.  In the previous blessings, people are receiving what they need.  The merciful also need mercy.  Those in need are not excluded from sharing mercy.  The broken and in-need are invited to participate in God’s work of mercy.  

Mercy is the work of God and an attribute of God.  And while God’s mercy is greater than human’s, it is an attribute that we try to emulate.  Mercy is compassion, kindness, empathy, forgiveness, generosity, forbearance, and grace.  Mercy is a blessing.

Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is referred to as merciful when he is healing the sick and the demon possessed.  The cry “Lord, have mercy” is a prayer and a confession of faith in the divine authority of Jesus.  We see this demonstrated in Matthew 9:27 where two blind men cry loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” and Jesus heals them according to their faith.  Also, in Matthew 15:22 a Canaanite woman shouts “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” And after a brief dialogue around Jesus coming to save Israel or everyone else, Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that moment.  And in Matthew 17, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he has epilepsy and suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.”  There is some discussion here about faith too and then Jesus heals the boy.  Each of these stories has a similar cry or plea or prayer calling Jesus Lord and confessing faith in him.  And in each, Jesus shows mercy and compassion.

In our verse for today and in the Matthew 18, parable of the unforgiving servant, we see a call for people to be merciful to each other.  It’s explicit in the parable that we should show mercy because God has shown mercy to us.  In the parable, the man who was forgiven a huge debt tries to collect a smaller debt from someone else.  He is called wicked and asked why he couldn’t show mercy after he had been shown mercy.  Implied is that the mercy we are asked to show to one another is not as great as the mercy that God shows to us.  And yet, we are called to participate in God’s mercy.

When we pray for mercy, and act on our prayers by showing mercy to others, we are participating in the reign of God.

Cartoon by Teresa Burns Pakhurst in the New Yorker.

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