Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. – Jesus
One interesting thing about the Beatitudes is that many of them are about heart attitudes. I believe that it’s the same in this passage: the merciful are not those who merely act with mercy toward those around them, but those who are merciful: have a merciful heart. God is not telling us to clean up our act and do more merciful things to those around us. Instead, He desires that we show mercy from the heart—because we love our neighbors as ourselves.
What does it mean to show mercy? According to Strong’s Dictionary, it means to show compassion, to be compassionate. In other words, Jesus wants us to have caring, compassionate hearts that show God’s mercy and love to those around us.
We each need to realize that we are who and what we are because of God’s mercy to us, so that we do not become proud and arrogant to those who are less fortunate than us. It is common in America to assume that anyone can better themselves if they just work hard enough. And while it is definitely true, to a point, there are those who, no matter how hard they work, will never have as much as others. Jesus tells us, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) He also says that God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)
We are who we are because of how God sent His rain and shone His sun upon us. Each one of us is responsible for what we do with the rain and sun that God gives us. But we must never become so arrogant that, figuratively speaking, we forget that we received the rain and sun from God—in other words, that we are what we are because of God’s mercies to us. Romans 9:15-16 says, “For he said to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy.”
The Opposite of Mercy
In James 2:1-13, God tells us:
My brothers, don’t hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory with partiality. For if a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, comes into your synagogue, and a poor man in filthy clothing also comes in; and you pay special attention to him who wears the fine clothing, and say, “Sit here in a good place;” and you tell the poor man, “Stand there,” or “Sit by my footstool;” haven’t you shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?…
However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors…
So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. For judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:1-4, 8-9, 12-13)
This passage says that when we show partiality—treating one person better than another—we show that we do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are sinning. But then God drops the hammer: if we fail to show mercy to those around us, He also will not be merciful to us in the judgment.
The Pharisees felt very confident in their system of manmade righteousness, and they looked contemptuously on those who didn’t match their standards. But Jesus told them, multiple times, that they needed to learn mercy:
“But you go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)
But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said to him, “Behold, your disciples do what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” But he said to them, “… if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you wouldn’t have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:2,3a,7)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24)
Breaking the Chains of Mercilessness
I’ve got to be honest with you: while I am often a caring, loving person, I have also been uncaring and merciless many times.
As I contemplate my own problems, I think that part of my lack of mercy has come because I did not feel that I had received mercy myself.
We looked at the Pharisees a moment ago. I would like to point out to you that the Pharisees not only were merciless; they expected no mercy. They were part of a religious system that spiritually abused people and regulated the tiniest details—so that God wouldn’t mercilessly punish them. Such is the way of spiritually abusive systems. In fact, I believe that mercilessness is a defining characteristic of spiritually abusive systems.
Maybe you are like me. Maybe you have been treated mercilessly many times. Maybe you struggle to show mercy because you want to subconsciously hope to raise yourself up by putting others down. Maybe you believe that God looks at you as a peon in His kingdom, instead of His beloved child. Maybe you live in fear of Him because you expect no mercy from Him.
Is that you?
There is a solution. It is specific to you, but I can assure you that you, too, can find healing, love, and mercy.
Because God truly does love you with an everlasting love. He really wants you. Not to exploit you, not to use and abuse you, but because He created you and He deeply desires you.
All you have to do is reach out to Him. Ask Him to heal you. Ask Him to show you His mercy. Ask Him to help you show mercy to others. The answer may not come immediately, but I can assure you that if you ask from the heart, He will answer.
Let’s Love Each Other
Jesus told us:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
It’s important not to turn mercy and compassion into a guilt trip. There are always more people who need help, always more mission organizations that need money, always more places we could help out. It’s important that we know what God wants us to do and follow that, and not merely run around trying to be “merciful” to all the hurting people we can find. Romans 12:6-8 explains that God specifically gives some people the gift of showing mercy: “Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy, let’s prophesy according to the proportion of our faith; or service, let’s give ourselves to service; or he who teaches, to his teaching; or he who exhorts, to his exhorting; he who gives, let him do it with generosity; he who rules, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
However, God does want each of us to have a merciful heart that cares for others. We will show mercy in different ways, but God wants each of us to forgive those who wrong us, to show compassion to those who hurt, to do good to those who do not deserve it, to treat each person as important and equally valuable.
And let’s remember that God does the same to us.