Summary: The way of the Kingdom of Jesus is one of trust in God, which frees us to be "merciful" and give to others, knowing that God is a God of justice and compassion, full of mercy and love.
Blessed are the Merciful
Apr 3, 2011 Matt 5:7
Intro: We are half-way through our Lenten journey through the Beatitudes, the opening words of Jesus’ opening sermon (“on the mount”) where Jesus describes Kingdom life. During our last Adult Education time a couple weeks ago, as we were discussing the second beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”, the question came up: “what does it actually mean to be “blessed”?”
It is a good question. The way we often hear the word “blessed” used is to describe some good thing that makes us happy:
“my, what a beautiful baby!”;
“yes, we are very blessed.”
“you have a lovely home!”
“yes, we are very blessed.”
“how is the job search going?”
“great, I was blessed with 3 offers last week!”
This is how we most often use the word today, and so that is the thought in our minds when we hear it in Jesus’ words in Matt 5. But then it doesn’t make sense… Blessed are the poor? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are the meek? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst? Blessed are the merciful?”
So Jesus must have something a little different in mind for what it means to be “blessed” than beautiful babies, lovely homes, and multiple job offers. May I suggest instead, “it refers overwhelmingly to the distinctive religious joy which accrues to (people) from (their) share in the salvation of the kingdom of God… basic statements are here made about those who may regard themselves as citizens of the kingdom of God. The power of the statements lies in their reversal of all human values.” (TDNT 4:367-368).
“The reversal of all human values”… could it be that what it really means to be “blessed” is to be brought into the kingdom of God, as citizens, and then have our human values (comfort, wealth, security in possessions, no occasions to mourn, power, etc…) “reversed”? It is difficult for us to imagine Jesus’ words that way, when the way we use the term “blessed” is about having our human needs/wants fulfilled – “yes, God has really blessed us”.
A good part of our struggle comes from the fact that we are so different from Jesus’ audience. The people He spoke to were the masses – the poor, the powerless, the people who lived very simply and did their best to survive. The people who would have heard Jesus’ words about the poor, the hungry, the mourner, the powerless, and would have thought “that is me!” Jesus wasn’t speaking to the rich and powerful, who were in control of their own lives and destiny and enjoying freedom and luxury – that is us! So as we listen to Jesus’ words, and seek to hear them as words of life for us (which they are, just as much as they were to His original audience), as they describe what it means to be citizens of God’s Kingdom, we must be willing to entertain the truth that the “blessed” life is not about our physical and material comfort, but about something deeper and stronger and better – the smile of God on the life of our souls as we live as citizens of His Kingdom.
Blessed are the Merciful:
The fifth beatitude says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How is this a “reversal of all human values”? Do we not value “mercy”? Well, that might depend on what “mercy” actually is, and whether we are thinking of receiving mercy for ourselves or giving it to another person. See, I think that most often, when we are in the wrong we desire mercy – we might even expect it thinking we have probably earned it by all of our effort to be good and “in the right” most of the time, so a little mistake here or there probably should be an opportunity to receive mercy. If we take it one step further, though, it gets a little hazier: what about others, should they receive mercy? How about the person we hear of who robbed a bank, the drunk driver who smashed into your car parked on the road, the husband who had an affair – should they receive mercy? Let’s take it even one more, even harder step: what about the person who wronged you, who hurt you deeply, who made you suffer – do they deserve mercy?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” When I phrase it like I just did, this does start to seem like a “reversal of human values”. In many/most of those situations, we want justice, vindication, punishment. We think the perpetrators should suffer as much as those they made to suffer – that seems right to us. Something inside of us calls out for that, values that, and thinks that those “bad people” should not be offered mercy but rather should get what they’ve got coming… But is that the Kingdom of God? Not according to Jesus, who described the life of the citizens of His Kingdom as ones who are “merciful”.