Blessed are the Merciful (Matthew 5:7).
Mercy is a sister to justice. It is difficult to have one without the other. Mercy is also a mother to forgiveness. Without it, we would demand and be demanded to pay unfair compensation for our mistakes. And mercy is to man what grace is to God. Just as God is gracious so man must be merciful. Who then can be merciful? The people that foster a “blessed” or “makarioi” attitude can be merciful and dispense grace, the most precious gift man desperately needs.
We are not born with mercy. We must acquire it with help from others. We do not get it all at once. For most of us it is a learning process that begins in the cradle and ends in the grave. And the greatest Teacher Christians have is Jesus. It is His life and teaching that guides us on our journey of being merciful. I was in my twenties when mercy became meaningful. My parents taught me to be polite and so did my Polish teacher. When the political climate changed, I had to fight to defend myself against bodily harm. The Nazis had no respect for mercy. They wanted me be aggressive and make others respect me by fearing me. After some eighty–five years of practice, I have experienced that being merciful has had multiple rewards.
The word “mercy” in Greek is “eleemones” from “eleeo,” means literally, “having a heart for people in trouble or feel sincere pity for them and do something to ease their difficulties.” It is like a gift of one human being to another. It requires no compensation or retribution. But it does need a compassionate and sympathetic heart (attitude) toward fellow human beings in trouble. Hence, the merciful are a rare breed of people who have it in them to overlook their distaste or resentment for others and their faulting ways. Such people are in great demand. They are the salt and light of the earth.
The disciples were the recipients of Jesus’ Words. They lived in a culture that demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They were intolerant toward others and ready to destroy them with fire (Luke 9:54). Their philosophy was to let the enemies have a dose of their own medicine. That same feeling is common to all men and women. In spite of being told to be merciful, we would very much give the indifferent and careless offender a taste of how it feels being violated. There is hardly a day that goes by without an incident that could stand some discipline. We slam the breaks and feel sorry we did not hit the one who cut us off in traffic. One driver with a sign on the back of his vehicle, “Beam me up Lord,” and he cut me off. I nearly felt obligated to send the man on his way. Fortunately, I was not as hasty as he was and a serious mishap was avoided. The law was on my side, but what good would it have been if we ended up dead or seriously hurt. It caused me to think how often I must have inconvenienced others by my careless and thoughtless action? I too had to confess and say, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Jesus wanted his followers to be different. He wanted them to practice being merciful and to pass it on as a free gift rather than being recipients. There is enough mercy to go around, but there are not enough distributors. We need it and want it very much and when we have it, we do not want to part with it. Mercy is a very precious commodity, but it is not ours to keep. It belongs to those who have hurt us and have no means to pay us back. And when they receive it, it does not belong to them either. They too must pass it on to those who hurt them. Hopefully, mercy will come full circle and return to those who gave it in the first place. Several years ago, a stranger showed great kindness to me. I asked him why he was so kind when I had never done anything for him. His reply was, “You will do something good for someone else, and someone else will do something for me.” This reminded me of Jesus’ statement, “Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers you have done for me” (Matthew 25:41).
Being merciful is a humbling experience. It is not always rewarding. This is because we live in a world where we expect nothing for nothing. We are expected to pay and be paid for goods and services rendered. And we have become weary of strangers. A pastor was asked to shelter a man for a few days until he could find work. The man ran up a debt of $ 10,000.00 on his credit cards and disappeared. That same man had stayed almost a month in our camper and used us as a reference to cheat others. He had several opportunities to be employed and even worked for a few days at a neighbor’s job and borrowed money from the neighbor. He never collected his pay, nor did he pay back his debt. This man preyed on merciful people.
Mercy looks for kindness. It is a trait that has suffered mental lapses. Far too often, we give little thought to the idea of being kind. It is not that we cannot afford it, which is true in our day where disparity is increasing rapidly, but we just procrastinate. We just had mother’s day. An acquaintance poured out her heart regarding some people whose children she was taking care off. She had helped them when they were financially strapped. This was a time when they were thoughtful with her. But, when their fortunes changed, they forgot the one who had made many sacrifices. Now they could afford birthday parties for their dog and neglected to invite the one who had taken care of the animals. She was hurt and dared to complain. They responded with belated flowers. “What,” she asked me “should I write on that card?” What should she write? Is it appropriate to say, “Thank you for your kind thoughtfulness?” It is very difficult to be Christ-like in such situations. And it is even more unfortunate that those who are most able to be kind are squandering it on themselves. Let us remember the story of Daves and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Fortunes do change and mercy begets mercy.
Much of the fault is grounded in the idea that mercy is an endless supply of God’s gift to man and it does not really affect whether we reciprocate or not. This is absolutely wrong! Mercy is like putting oil in an engine or greasing mechanical parts. I had let a motor ran out of oil and ended up with a costly bill. Deliberately enjoying, living and thriving on mercy without replenishing it, will result in grave disappointments. The five foolish virgins that had not refilled their oil lamps were not allowed to enter their own wedding party (Matthew 25:1-13). An employer gave every worker a turkey for thanksgiving for many years. Only one person was kind enough to return thanks. One day he stopped the practice and everyone complained. He had not been stingy with his employees, but they had been stingy in reciprocating.
We keep repeating God’s unconditional love and his endless supply of mercy. The problem is that God turned the distribution of mercy over to us. It is not a talent we can bury or keep to ourselves, but a public commodity that requires to be circulated. It has a tendency to grow and multiply while in use. We can never take it for granted. Yet, far too often we do not lift a finger to alter our state of affairs. We are, what one may call, on God’s welfare role. And some of us have been sponging off for several generations. The sobering truth is that God needs human beings to show His mercy. Even His Son, Jesus the Christ, was sent to show mercy. God is Spirit and spirit requires flesh to meet the needs of the needy. And these needy ones must make an effort to work out their salvation with fear and trembling so that they too can become instruments of mercy.
We must cease living under the illusion that if we have received mercy, we are no longer responsible for what we have done. How did Jesus deal with that steward who showed no mercy while he himself had received mercy? In the Parable, the gracious master who had shown mercy in the first place, revoked it on the basis that this person had not been merciful with another person below him in the economics of life. It was his cruelty and lack of reasonable treatment of his subordinate that ended him in bondage until he had paid all his debts. Of course, the master had gone way beyond what his servant had asked in the first place, namely for more time to pay his debt. He had forgiven him all his debt. He, however, did not even give more time to his sub-servant (Mt. 18:21-35). What is the old saying? “Do not throw stones when you live in a glass house.”
Practicing mercy has a way of liquidating our own debts. It was the willingness of the servant to pay back that touched the heart of his master and resulted in the release of his debt. Sincere willingness to make up for our shortcomings will go a long way to gain favor with those who can show favor. One day, Jesus met Zacchaeus sitting on a tree limb. He told him to come down for He wanted to be his guest for the day. Jesus’ kindness motivated Zacchaeus to be kind. He did not only forgive his fellowmen but promised to compensate them for having wronged them. That day Jesus told his listeners who had objected that He had sat down with the likes of Zacchaeus, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” Indeed, salvation had come to a man who corrected his ways. It was not just a matter of saving Zacchaeus’ soul but his name and his family in the community. Here was a new Zacchaeus, a merciful one with a heart for those whom he had forced to pay more than their share of taxes (Lk. 19:1-10). This tax collector was an example of what mercy does to a person and what that person will do when he or she accepts and practices mercy. He too became a dispenser of grace.