Written Word

The Beatitudes – Part 6: Blessed Are the Merciful

There is a shift in emphasis in this beatitude: What we have seen so far has been inward looking poverty of spirit, mourning for our sins, etc. Jesus now speaks of the disciples’ attitude and behaviour towards others. This beatitude is outward looking. “Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, “for they will be shown mercy.”

A common misunderstanding is that Jesus is teaching a kind of tit-for-tat; if you do this then you will receive that. If you show mercy then you will receive mercy because of what you have done. But what we do cannot tip the scales of divine justice in our favour. One wrong cannot be corrected by one good act. Such a teaching destroys the doctrine that declares we are saved by a gracious act of God and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

Being Merciful

Mercy tells us how graciously God deals with sinners. He treats us, as Scripture says, not as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10). We, in turn, display this kind of mercy in our treatment of those who have not yet come to know the Lord. “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26) We know the dilemma of this man. We know what is entrapping him in a life of sin. Therefore we deal mercifully with him, knowing that, but for the grace of God, we too would still be in the trap of the devil. The condition of every person is described by Jesus in his words to Paul: “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.” (Acts 26:17-18) By God’s grace and the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit we are now enlightened. Because we are the recipients of mercy we extend the same mercy to others.

They Shall Receive Mercy

The extraordinary behaviour of the woman who anointed Jesus with perfume then wet his feet with her tears is explained by Jesus thus: “Her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-50) She had received mercy, and this led her to express her love for the Lord in her actions. She gave because she received and Jesus assured her that her many sins were forgiven. We can only receive mercy when we are merciful to those who have sinned against us. We can only receive mercy ourselves when we extend mercy to those whose sins have wounded us. This woman is so unlike the unjust steward who was forgiven a major debt by his master but then found someone who owed him a small amount and refused to forgive him (Matthew 18:21-35). The one who is merciful is one who has repented, who has acknowledged to God his sinfulness and thrown himself upon the mercy of God. This person, Jesus says, will receive mercy.